Measure 1 strips rights, doesn't fight corruption

August 21, 2010 

With the primary election just around the corner, I offer this: Voting for Ballot Measure 1 makes every bit as much sense as buying into Gov. Sean Parnell's campaign ad touting his spending cuts. It would be dumb.

The measure -- euphemistically tagged the "Alaska Anti-Corruption Act" -- is beyond bad; beyond a bald affront to the Constitution. Spawned in the frenzied federal political corruption probe of 2007 and bordering on the bizarre, the measure is a nasty bit of work.

Its shadowy backers bailed out on trying to get it passed, peeling off at about the same time the state started getting curious about their money. They blamed the "corrupt" system. All of that should tell us something.

Alaskans for Open Government, it turns out, was the top financial contributor to Clean Team Alaska, the group pushing the measure. It did not disclose its finances until June, well past deadlines. The Alaska Public Offices Commission staff says Alaskans for Open Government should be fined $339,000 -- the largest levy ever -- for not being, well, open.

All of that is good, I suppose, but there is one, small catch. The measure remains on the ballot, an orphan that still can attract votes.

The problem? It sounds great -- until you think about it for a few minutes. Here's what it says:

"This bill would ban the use of public funds for political campaigns and lobbying by state and local government agencies, and school districts. Public funds could not be used to support or oppose ballot measures, lobby to pass a law, or ask for public funding. Any entity that lobbies or campaigns would be barred from receiving public funds.

It would ban political contributions by government contract holders and members of their families. It would ban legislators and their staff from being employed by government contract holders for two years after leaving state service. The bill has criminal and civil penalties."

The "members of their families" and "ban political contributions" and the "legislators and their staff" parts are what got me. In what court would that garbage stand up? The measure likely would end up disenfranchising about two-thirds of Alaska -- and what about all the "petition the government for a redress of grievances" stuff it ignores?

I've never been a fan of ballot initiatives. They are convenient back doors used by special interests to push their wacky ideas. Initiatives neatly sidestep pesky governmental checks and balances and avoid the fuss and mess of the legislative process. Can you imagine a bill parroting Ballot Measure 1 making it through the Legislature on its merits? Can you imagine it not being laughed out of Juneau?

If nothing else, the measure is a prime example of everything that is wrong with the system. Washington Post columnist David Broder is no fan, either. In "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money," he concludes the initiative process is nothing but an assault on the Constitution.

"Exploiting the public's disdain for politics and distrust of politicians, it is now the most uncontrolled and unexamined arena of power politics," he writes of initiatives. "It has given the United States something that seems unthinkable -- not a government of laws but laws without government."

The Swiss exported the initiative process to us more than 100 years ago.

It was championed by populists fretting about big money in politics. It since has gone on "to become the favored tool of millionaires and interest groups that use their wealth to achieve their own policy goals," Broder writes.

In Alaska, almost nobody likes Ballot Measure 1. From unions to government to chambers of commerce to politicians to an almost endless list of businesses and organizations, it draws the skunk eye.

The more you know about the measure, the harder it is to like. If the idea is to strip of their constitutional rights holders of city and state contracts -- and, remarkably, their families, too -- its backers did a bang-up job. If it is aimed at fighting corruption, it is a miserable failure.

There unfortunately remains that vexing little problem: Ballot Measure 1 looks good at first blush -- and it's still on the primary ballot.

Somebody might read it for the very first time in the voting booth; somebody dumb enough to buy into Parnell's ad.

It's up to the rest of us.

Vote "no."

Paul Jenkins is editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet. The Planet's parent corporation has a contractual relationship with forces opposing Ballot Measure 1.

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