Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions
Proposed changes to ethics regs
By Andrée McLeod
November 02, 2019
The Dunleavy administration’s proposed regulation changes to the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act (AEBEA) is best described by Mark Twain as ‘The new political gospel: public office is a private graft.’
Diplomacy aside, the proposed changes are not only questionable, they are ludicrous. They give the governor and attorney general the ‘discretion’ to determine whether public money, our money, ought to be spent to defend the misdeeds of our top officials when ethics complaints are deemed to be in the ‘public interest.’
Simply put, the proposed changes enable bad corrupt practices – the kind of corrupt practices that caused the AEBEA to be put on the books in the first place and rein in conflicts of interest when folks get into positions of power and become heady with authority.
According to a recent memo from legislative counsel, these proposed changes potentially violate numerous clauses of the Alaska Constitution and include the public purpose, the separation of powers, and equal protection clauses.
Additionally, the proposed changes clash with the AEBEA’s prohibitions on gifts, favoritism, self-enrichment, use of state property and resources for personal benefit and financial interests, use of official actions for personal purposes, coercion of subordinates to perform services for private benefit of public officers, use of state resources for partisan political purposes, intentionally securing unwarranted benefits or treatment, among others.
In my view, these proposed changes to ethics regulations violate common sense.
In order to understand why, one has to understand who requested these changes.
According to an Oct. 28th Department of Law (DOL) public notice, “… the Attorney General instructed the Department of Law to propose the amendments.”
Additionally, in response to a question from reporters about these changes, DOL spokesperson Cori Mills offered that they ‘…would also help to mitigate the risk that the ethics complaint process is used to harass or becomes predatory.”
When asked to provide examples of when this process was ‘used to harass or became predatory, the DOL memo states, “The Attorney General is concerned that the current process could easily be used to harass or could become predatory. This process could cause an inordinate amount of expense to the subject of the complaint and become very distracting and time consuming for these public officials, even if the complaint is found baseless.”
To the question as to how these changes would mitigate this risk, the same document states, “… this process is currently expensive and time consuming for the subject of the complaint, even if the complaint is ultimately found baseless. While defending against one or two baseless complaints might be manageable and harassing, as the number of complaints increase, the process can quickly become unmanageable and predatory.”
There it is. The risks are a figment of the AG’s imagination and the changes do nothing to mitigate those risks but do everything to bring about ease, convenience and financial invulnerability to top officials when complaints of official misconduct are filed.
Common sense dictates that the way to mitigate ethics complaints is for public officials to adhere to our ethics acts and avoid conflicts of interest, misconduct, and corrupt, self-dealing practices.
One of the only tools available for the ordinary Alaskan to hold their public officials accountable for what most folks consider unethical, dishonest, and corrupt official acts is the right to file an ethics complaint with the AG’s office - after careful thought and consideration.
But because the ethics complaint process was effectively used in the last decade or so to curtail official misconduct, this administration propagates the misconception that ethics complaints are used by ordinary Alaskans for predatory and harassment purposes…and are presumed to be mostly baseless.
People who want to strip, erode and mangle government ethics laws and regulations are people who are afraid and have things to hide. Instead of serving the public they find ways to enrich themselves, prevent transparency, and design ways to weasel out when found to be in violation of our laws.
The Dunleavy administration’s attempt to weaken our ethics laws and regulations runs counter to the Alaska Constitution and the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.
If this administration is still resolved to engender the public’s trust in their government, these changes will only destroy any remaining faith and confidence most Alaskans have in their governor, lt. governor and attorney general.
The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.
Received November 01, 2019
- Published November 02, 2019
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