The VECO corruption scandal has revealed a stunning loophole in Alaska's political integrity laws. Candidates, corporations and others who violate state campaign laws apparently get a free pass if they can hide their offenses for a year and a day.
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That's because the state's campaign watchdog agency is saddled with an almost microscopic statute of limitations - just one year from the illegal act.
Even if the illegal act is detected within a year, the Alaska Public Offices Commission can pursue only civil fines. It's unclear whether the state can pursue criminal penalties against a corporation that makes illegal donations or a candidate who accepts them. APOC executive director Brooke Miles says she has asked the state attorney general's office if there are any criminal law enforcement options.
With VECO's illegal donations, APOC's short statute of limitations has been a non-issue. VECO and its executives will avoid civil penalties for the firm's illegal contributions, but its two top lobbyists will go to prison for bribery. Several of the legislators who benefited from VECO's illegal contributions face trial or investigation for similar influence-peddling offenses. VECO itself is dead, sold to a firm that couldn't wait to dispose of the tarnished name.
But what about other lawmakers and candidates who got VECO's illegal campaign help? The company routinely did polling about its favored candidates. If VECO shared poll results directly with a campaign, it was an illegal corporate contribution. As long as the candidates took the illegal aid more than a year ago, though, they're home free as far as the Alaska Public Offices Commission is concerned.
And what if the illegal corporate donor is, unlike VECO, still in business? Without any criminal penalties, APOC's one-year statute of limitations leaves enormous room to flout the ban on corporate campaign contributions.
Campaign law violations used to have a four-year statute of limitations - until the Republican-dominated Legislature and Frank Murkowski combined forces on a concerted effort to loosen state campaign financing rules.
The VECO scandal shows that Alaska's campaign laws need more backbone. Restoring the original statute of limitations is one obvious and urgent fix. Ensuring the state can impose criminal penalties for large-scale or widespread campaign law violations is another.
When the Legislature convenes next year, tightening up campaign law enforcement should be an early order of business.