Shannyn Moore: Legislators' conflict-of-interest standards are a joke

commentJanuary 26, 2013 

A silent coup has occurred in Alaska. "More foxes in the henhouse than chickens," as someone said.

The oil tax giveaway proposed by former Conoco Phillips lobbyist and Exxon attorney Sean Parnell has been referred to the TAPS Throughput Committee chaired by Conoco Phillips employee Sen. Peter Micciche, in front of Senate Resources co-chair Cathy Giessel, whose husband's job relies on the oil industry, and later to the uber-powerful Senate Finance Committee co-chaired by Conoco Phillips employee Kevin Meyer.

The grease already on the wheels of this faulty legislation could fill a pipeline.

I know, you're thinking surely the employee of a company can't vote for or against legislation that will determine his employer's profitability. Unfortunately, you're wrong. The Legislature's conflict-of-interest standards are a joke.

Here's how it works. In the Senate, Kevin Meyer can declare he has a conflict but Peter Micciche can object and require Meyer to vote, and vice versa.

In the House, Mike Chenault, who does business with the oil industry, can declare a conflict and Mike Hawker, whose wife makes more than a $100,000 a year as a Conoco Phillips executive, can object, and they both vote.

When stronger ethics laws were being drafted not that long ago -- on the tail of the indictment of 10 percent of our Legislature -- a representative told me those laws were for the less ethical among them. They needed to know where the line was.

Alaska is small when it comes to who we know, are related to, have as in-laws, go clam digging with, etc. Because we are represented in Juneau by "citizen legislators," we understand they have other jobs, ties and loyalties. The alternative to this would be full-time work and pay with a prohibition against other sources of income -- like the governor's position. I don't know about you but the thought of full-time legislators and a year-round Legislature makes me want to hide under the covers and never come out.

Newly elected Sen. Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, occupies some pretty lofty positions in Juneau. The Resource Committee is one of the most powerful in the Senate and not only is he a member, he's co-chairman of the special subcommittee reviewing the bill to slash oil taxes.

Micciche has worked for Conoco Phillips for more than two decades. He's run the LNG plant on the Peninsula for years. As reported by Richard Mauer in the Daily News this week, Micciche is paid between $100,000 and $200,000 a year and owns an undisclosed amount of stock in his company.

Micciche told Mauer he doesn't believe he has a conflict of interest under the Legislative Ethics Act.

Did Mr. Micciche's parents grade his college entrance exams?

It's important that conflicts or the appearance of conflicts be avoided. Why? So the public can keep some semblance of faith that our representatives are serving us and not just their own self-interest.

Is this really that hard to figure out? If he carries the governor's tax giveaway forward, Micciche's employer stands to reap billions of dollars. It would be extremely difficult for anyone not to be affected by that -- in fact, if you wouldn't be affected, check your pulse.

In 2010, when lawsuits piled up against BP, the Gulf of Mexico region had a courthouse crisis. So many judges had conflicts of interest through stock ownership and family in the oil industry that their recusals swamped the remaining judges.

Unlike our Legislature, the courts take conflict of interest seriously. Do you think Micciche or Meyer or Hawker would be seated on a jury if Conoco Phillips was on either side of the courtroom? If Micciche couldn't be a juror, why in heaven's name would the majority caucus put him in a position of leadership to shape laws that directly affect his employer?

I don't mean to pick on the freshman senator. There are at least 10 lawmakers who have deep ties through either their jobs or their spouses to the oil industry, not including our governor.

A little sensitivity to the public about the appearance of conflict would go a long way, Mr. Micciche. It wasn't that long ago, talking about oil legislation, we heard Speaker of the House Pete Kott saying, "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie. Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil." And he sold it for chicken feed.

Forgive me for wanting as much on the "up and up" as possible.

I know it's hard to get through the web of Alaska relationships to avoid this -- and I'm not saying that's completely possible. A lot of folks work in the industry and shouldn't be exempted from serving. But for the love of Jay Hammond and Wally Hickel, can't they at least pretend to be concerned about it?


Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliate KYUR Channel 13 Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.

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