Get out in the light

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

The primary support for Proposition 1, which backers call the anti-corruption ballot measure, is a group called Alaskans for Open Government. We hope they're also Alaskans for disclosure of political contributions, because so far neither the initiative's backers nor the organization's website is revealing Alaskans for Open Government's donors. The group has contributed about $80,000 to the Prop 1 campaign. The initiative aims to curtail lobbying with public money, ban political contributions from government contractors and their family members including aunts, uncles and grandparents, keep contractors from hiring lawmakers or their aides for at least two years after they leave office, and require detailed, user-friendly reports on all state contracts.

Opponents criticize the vagueness of the initiative, its constitutional issues, potential restrictions on free speech and political participation by both public employees and those who have government contracts and unintended consequences for small groups and communities.

We won't deal with all the pros and cons here, except to note that the real target of the initiative seems to be government itself rather than simply corruption. Backers want to limit government and to that end aim to break what they see as a self-perpetuating progression of governments spending public money to lobby governments for more money - as well as contractors and public officials using the system to benefit themselves.

Prop 1's requirement that the state post detailed, user-friendly reports of its contracts online is a good idea. Alaskans could see where state money is going, for what and to whom. That's open government.

However, any anonymity of donors in what promises to be an expensive, hard-fought campaign is not open. It's not good representative democracy, not good campaigning and not the way to good government.

Ken Jacobus of Alaskans for Open Government and a prime initiative backer said Monday that while he doesn't believe the law requires the group to disclose its donors, he wants to do so. He said he favors disclosure both as policy and to prevent any distraction from the merits of the initiative. He said he wants to meet with the Alaska Public Offices Commission this week to make sure any disclosure doesn't change the group's legal status.

Dick Randolph, a former Alaska lawmaker and Libertarian, wrote this on the Alaska Clean Team website about the political process he and other Prop 1 backers aim to change:

"These characters can't afford to have the bright light of transparency focused on their shady dealings."

If Prop 1 backers are going to preach the gospel of light, they should first focus on their own supporters.

Foes are lining up against the initiative, including the state Chamber of Commerce, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, school Superintendent Carol Comeau and Speaker of the House Mike Chenault. Groups and individuals who campaign against the initiative or contribute money to its defeat need to stand up and be counted too.

Debate on this one is gathering steam and should be lively en route to the Aug. 24 primary vote. Let's not have any secret players.

Alaskans for Open Government needs to be open about who bankrolls the campaign.

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