Alaska editorial: No on 3: Elections reform off target

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ballot proposition 3 simply will expand the size of state government. Alaskans want less and not more government spending and regulation.

The ballot measure is called the Alaska Clean Elections Act. Nice title, and no one argues with its intent. It is a reaction to the FBI investigations and the VECO scandal burning Alaska. The scandal has blackened the state's image.

Measure 3, however, isn't the correct response.

Proponents of the measure argue that it will level the financial playing field for political incumbents and their challengers. Candidates would have to collect a specified number of signatures, accompanied by $5 campaign contributions, from prospective constituents in their election district in order to qualify for state money - enough to run a viable campaign. Candidates who voluntarily participate in what's being called Clean Elections - and it is voluntary - also would receive additional state money if outspent by a privately funded opponent who didn't participate.

The goal is to reduce the influence of special interest groups and large contributors on candidates, thereby eliminating corruption.

That's a good goal. However, corruption begins at a person's or candidate's core. If a candidate has a penchant for selling votes to the highest buyer or taking what isn't rightly his (or hers), then that candidate likely will find trouble whether funded by the state, special interest groups or private contributions.

Measure 3 assumes all politicians are corrupt and that the state must save Alaskans. That's offensive. Far more follow the laws than break them. For candidates and politicians who do the latter, Alaskans are able to deal appropriately with those who turn out to have the corruption gene. Laws and processes exist, as the VECO scandal points out, to clean up corruption.

And, truthfully, special interest groups and large contributors won't stop trying to influence elections simply because the state has anted up for a candidate's campaign. Their attempts to influence won't change. But influence bought by campaign contributors isn't as significant as Measure 3 implies, as its opponents point out. If it were, VECO, which contributed liberally to campaigns, wouldn't have had to bribe legislators to do its bidding.

Additionally, incumbents' challengers would be limited in their spending under the Clean Elections Act, opponents note. Successful challengers need to be able to raise more in campaign contributions in order to compete with an incumbent. Incumbents have the advantage of the publicity that comes with incumbency. Challengers who want to become known to voters must not be restricted by limiting the means with which they deliver their message.

The Clean Elections Act theoretically would cost each Alaskan less than $9 per year. But the actual cost would be determined by the number of candidates running for elected office each year who choose to participate under the terms of the act and its regulation. That figure will fluctuate.

This measure won't affect corruption; it would just increase the cost of elections and encourage corrupt politicians and their supporters to become more crafty in attempts to get around election laws, including the intent of the Clean Elections Act.

Let's not give them the incentive to do it.

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