Campaign law violations past APOC's scope

FBI investigations show state agency needs more authority, legislators say

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An FBI investigation into corruption in the Alaska Legislature has turned up numerous instances of violations of the state's campaign finance laws that will not be prosecuted.

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Those implicated, including former VECO Corp. owner Bill Allen, won't even be investigated, said Brooke Miles, executive director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The Alaska Legislature shortened the statute of limitations for pursuing such campaign finance violations to one year, according to Miles.

"The bundling of campaign donations, the giving of illegal campaign contributions ... all those things are beyond our scope because of the statute of limitations," Miles said.

Miles said she plans to seek more authority for the commission to go back and prosecute violations.

"By the time I read them (in the federal indictment) they were already beyond the statute of limitations," she said.

One allegation made in court filings so far was that contributions were made to one person to be passed on to another to mislead APOC about where the money was coming from. Another was that VECO reimbursed a top executive's campaign donations made at Allen's behest.

Former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, an outspoken critic of the ethical standards of the Legislature, said he didn't know how the statute of limitations was shortened, but said there were efforts at about that time to weaken oversight of campaign finance laws.

"I know there were efforts around then to gut APOC," he said.

Miles said when the commission meets in Anchorage on Thursday and Friday, she'll request a longer time to go after violations.

"I intend to recommend the commission seek to revise that statutory language to four years," she said.

She said she would only ask for four years because memories faltered and obtaining documents becomes more difficult as time passes.

House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, was one of the leaders in ethics reform in the Legislature last year. He said he's be open to that request, after what the public has learned from the FBI investigation.

"I think we should be able to give a good rational answer about why it is so short," Coghill said of the statute of limitations.

He said it initially appeared to him that the minimum time period should be a two-year election cycle, and perhaps longer.

Berkowitz said he'll support a longer statute of limitations, but APOC may need more done to it than that.

"I think there needs to be an audit of APOC's functions," he said. "I think we need to see if they have the statutory authority and the resources to do their job."

Coghill said the ongoing corruption trials indicate that enforcement of campaign finance rules in the state need to be more proactive, but said the commission could do that.

"Brooke (Miles) has said 'give me the tools and I'll be proactive,'" Coghill said.

Gov. Sarah Palin included money for an APOC investigator in her first budget as governor, and the Legislature approved the expenditure.

Miles recently announced that former Alaska journalist Jeff Berliner had been hired to fill that job.

Berkowitz said that was not enough.

"I know people are touting the fact that they've added an investigator, but all they've done is put an investigator back in after they took it out," he said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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