Backers of a controversial initiative that has been billed as an anti-corruption measure say they are abandoning their campaign, though the measure is expected to remain on the ballot in August.
The group called Clean Team Alaska (Committee to Stop the Corruption) still supports the initiative to put limits on lobbying and campaign contributions. But the sponsors say the lieutenant governor's recent changes in the ballot language describing the proposed law would give an unfair advantage to those who want it defeated. There's no point taking the dispute to court because that system is corrupt, too, the backers say.
"As we have traveled the state, the culture of corruption is even more embedded and profound than we realized when we started this campaign," the committee chairman, former state legislator Dick Randolph, said in a written statement Thursday.
"The current attorney general and lieutenant governor are clearly not acting within the law, and the only course of action we have is a lengthy and costly legal fight with very little expectation of a favorable ruling from a court system that embraces the same culture of corruption as the attorney general and lieutenant governor," he said.
The initiative has riled up foes as varied as labor unions, school districts and rural villages.
According to ballot wording approved by Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell on May 18, the measure would ban campaign contributions from government contractors and their relatives, outlaw publicly funded lobbying or campaigning, and generally bar government contractors from hiring a legislator out of office less than two years.
Violating a provision would amount to a criminal misdemeanor and bring fines and other penalties. For instance, a repeat offender using public funds to lobby or campaign would be banned from public office or a government job for 10 years.
"I take no position as to whether it's a good initiative and on whether people should vote for it or not," Campbell said in an interview Thursday. "I just want to make sure that when they go into the booth and they look at the title and they look at the summary, they have the best opportunity to understand the implications, should it pass."
His summary added detail to language approved in May 2008 by then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. The new wording says that family members of government contractors, as well the contractors themselves, would be banned from making political contributions. The new summary also specifies that state and local government agencies, and school districts, would be banned from using public money for lobbying or political campaigns. The original didn't say who would be banned from spending public money for those purposes.
Opponents of the ballot measure had raised concerns that the earlier language didn't fully explain the scope of Prop. 1. Campbell said he invited both opponents and backers to suggest new language, but only the opponents did so. He said he didn't accept their wording verbatim.
Jason Cline, Clean Team spokesman, said his group didn't want any part of what he called a "backroom deal."
"I see it as just the opposite," Campbell responded. "I see it as transparency in government where I was asking both sides for their input so I could make an honest and fair decision on the best wording considering the arguments of both sides."
But as initiative backers see it, the new wording emphasizes the campaign message of their opponents. Even the attorney general's office considered the original language "impartial, accurate and complete," so why change it two years later with the election just months away? Cline said.
The initiative opponents include the AARP, Resource Development Council, state Chamber of Commerce, various labor unions, Alaska Municipal League and close to 40 local governments, communities and school boards, including Anchorage's. Foes say the initiative is poorly written, confusing and so broad it could prevent a fire chief from appearing before his local council without an invite.
Officials with the Alaska Municipal League and the AFL-CIO are leading the opposition, organized as the Stop the Gag Law committee. The group isn't dropping the fight and still plans to spend $1 million in an attempt to kill Prop. 1.
"Their decision doesn't change our track. It's still going to be on the ballot. It's still a bad initiative. We're still going to be educating people about the fact it's a bad initiative," said campaign manager Josh Applebee.
The backers maintain that the window to change the wording shut 30 days after Parnell authorized the earlier version two years ago. But that's the time limit for court challenges, not for fine-tuning the language for the ballot, according to assistant attorney general Mike Barnhill. Clean Team still could go to court over the new wording.
The lieutenant governor has the authority to revise already-approved ballot language because administrative agencies are allowed to reconsider their decisions, Barnhill wrote in an analysis of the issue sent to Campbell in May.
"We want to make sure it's right. We want to make sure it's legal. And we want to make sure it's clear," Campbell said.