The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
The group Alaskans for Open Government has received a $339,000 message that Alaska is serious about disclosure in its political campaigns.
That's the total of fines the Alaska Public Offices Commission has imposed on the group that bankrolled the aborted Clean Team Alaska campaign to pass Ballot Measure 1, which would have sharply restricted political activity by government contractors and extended family members, and lobbying by public institutions like cities, school districts and public employee unions.
APOC ruled that Alaskans for Open Government didn't meet its disclosure obligations until long after reports were due. The group didn't bother to register as a group until June 2010; it should have registered in August 2008. State law required any donation of $500 or more to be reported within 30 days. In June the group reported 21 such donations over two years. Only one didn't violate the 30-day rule.
Alaskans for Open Government got most of its money from two groups in the Washington, D.C., area founded and run by Howie Rich, a man who made a fortune in Manhattan real estate and now champions Libertarian causes across the country. He is a friend of Dick Randolph, longtime Alaska Libertarian and a primary backer of Clean Team Alaska.
Ken Jacobus, Anchorage attorney for Alaskans for Open Government, said the group will challenge the fines. Fine, that's their right.
What they can't challenge is that they were too slow to disclose, and disclosure is to honest political campaigning what swift verdicts are to justice: Delayed is denied.
State law requires disclosure by those who want to influence Alaska's elections. We've been through this drill before, most recently in the battle over the mining initiative in 2008. Alaskans are rightly tired of money that tries to hide, of interest-group covers and big-donor anonymity.
Once again, the message is clear: You want to be a player in Alaska politics? Then stand up and be counted, by name and amount, whether you're from Manhattan or McGrath. There's just one place for secrecy in our election process and that's the voting booth. Everything else belongs out in the light.
Prompt disclosure should have been a natural for Alaskans for Open Government, given that the ballot measure also includes user-friendly descriptions of all government contracts and contractors. Transparency begins with the people calling for it.
The APOC fine should drive home the message of campaign disclosure.