Campaign finance bill seeks to bolster regulatory agency

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Anchorage senator said Friday he'll introduce legislation extending the statute of limitations on campaign finance law violations.

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Now, the Alaska Public Offices Commission has only a year from the date of a violation to bring a complaint.

"Instead of handcuffing those who break the law, we've handcuffed our own watchdog agency," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Wielechowski said he'll introduce legislation extending the time the commission has to pursue violations from one year to four years.

In 2003, former Gov. Frank Murkowski introduced legislation shortening the time period from four years to two years. The Alaska Legislature later amended the bill to a single year.

"This change has left APOC hobbled and unable to do its job," Wielechowski said.

Brooke Miles, APOC executive director, said the short statute of limitations means the agency is unable to look into violations being revealed in ongoing federal criminal investigations, which have led to several Alaska lawmakers being charged with bribery and extortion.

State. Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, welcomed Wielechowski's bill.

"I think it's a great idea. I'll speak to him about becoming a co-sponsor," he said.

Wielechowski said giving APOC more time to investigate violations will strengthen the commission and "give more teeth" to the agency.

He also said the commission needed more money for staff, investigations and hearings.

"If Alaska is going to enforce its own laws and rebuild public trust, we must get APOC back on its feet. This bill is a first step in that direction," he said.

Elton said APOC had been unfairly criticized for not conducting investigations in areas in which it had no authority to investigate.

"APOC gets blamed for following a law we enacted," Elton said.

A survey of other state ethics laws by legislative research staff found most with time limits ranged from two to five years, according to an online database of state statutes.

In Washington, complaints may be filed five years from the date of the violations.

In Minnesota, the deadline is one year, unless there is fraud, concealment or misrepresentation that could not be discovered. In that case, complaints must be filed within a year of discovery.

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



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