My turn: Clean Elections transparent, 'Anti-Corruption' masks funding

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2008

There are many approaches being undertaken to clean up Alaska politics and to make sure the money - both legal and illegal - that has stained Alaska politics is removed and voters are put back in charge.

As a supporter of the Clean Elections Initiative, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group is proud to be part of an effort that has disclosed its funding from the beginning, even when not required by law. The so-called Anti-Corruption Initiative has hidden the money it has received.

Supporters have said they will ask New York real-estate tycoon Howie Rich for money if they make the ballot, which they now have in 2010. Rich has thrown his money into ballot initiatives across the United States, in an effort to further his own interests.

Some of these initiatives have been thrown off the ballot, as in Montana where, in September of 2006, District Judge Dirk Sandefur removed three bogus initiatives from the November ballot.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer challenged Rich to a public debate, saying: "I am writing to invite you to Montana to meet the folks whose lives you wish to change so drastically through your shady campaign. We would like to learn more about who you are, and about your motive to impose such a poisonous constitutional amendment on us."

We hope that something similar is not happening in Alaska. By wrapping their initiative in the guise of fighting corruption, Anti-Corruption Initiative supporters are attempting to hide their efforts to negate Clean Elections. But that is exactly what their initiative will do.

Clean Elections is the most important campaign reform for Alaska's scandal-clouded political system. We have seen how toxic Alaska politics has become. Politicians gather money from wealthy interests and then are on the hook to help those same interests.

Clean Elections is an optional avenue for public funding that eliminates this payoff process. Clean elections will level the playing field for political candidates - incumbents and challengers alike. It will inspire more and different people to run for office, as it has successfully done in Arizona and Maine.

Most importantly, with clean elections, corporations and special interests can't buy their way into the halls of government. Special interest money is simply taken out of the equation. This puts people back in charge of the electoral process and their democracy.

Candidates will no longer be beholden to a small number or large donors, but are free to serve the actual voters who elected them. The VECO Corp. bribery scandal and the campaign contributions VECO gave over the decades should serve as a stern warning about the dangerous influence money can have on politics.

The leading candidates for president have all spoken in favor of Clean Elections. Since it has been in place in Arizona since 2000, Sen. John McCain has the most exposure to it. In 2002, McCain touted the law, saying "Clean Elections works well to overcome the influence of special interests and gives Arizonans the power to create good government." In addition, he applauded the Arizona law for changing the negative influence of big money in campaigns.

Alaska' Clean Elections initiative also enjoys a broad array of support from across the political spectrum. Former Govs. Wally Hickel and Tony Knowles are in favor of Clean Elections. Diverse political voices all believe that Clean elections are the best way to take special interest money out of Alaska politics.

The Clean Elections Initiative is a positive step toward political campaign reform in Alaska. It will allow Alaskans of all political stripes to run for office and put out their ideas as to what is best for Alaska. The founders of this country and this state certainly didn't want wealthy special interests dominating political life. Clean elections are a way to get our system back.

• Steve Cleary is the executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group in Anchorage.

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