I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be more honest for us to turn our elections into auctions. Put a law or candidate on eBay and let the bidding begin. Of course school lunch subsidies, minimum wage and other “special interests” wouldn’t have a hope, but a governor willing to give $10 billion to the oil industry would be going-going-gone in seconds.
Wait a minute … Did I forget? We used to have public policy on the auction block. A company called Veco Corp., which depended on Alaska’s oil majors to survive, purchased favors from elected politicians for decades. That finally ended after a spectacle of trials, jail terms and hubris.
We require candidates to detail where their income comes from and what they do to earn that money. Makes sense, right? Before choosing candidates, voters should have a clear idea of what payroll they’ll be on.
Alaska has a citizen legislature, meaning we expect those who serve to have real jobs and the life experience and biases that go with them. There’s nothing wrong with a legislator who works for an oil company, or as a teacher, or owns a liquor store or sells shoes. But knowing those facts helps voters have at least an idea how a candidate might vote in office.
Last week, Daily News reporter Rich Mauer reported on Republican Senate candidate Bob Bell’s disclosure reports to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. After being ordered to comply with the law, Bell begrudgingly listed his company’s clients and income. BP is in the “at least $1 million” column for Mr. Bell. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but with two senators who work for Conoco Phillips already likely to serve in the legislature next year (that’s 10 percent of the Alaska Senate), and multinational oil company executives attending fund-raisers for Bob Roses and others, do we really need another senator who gets a big chunk of his income from the oil industry?
But the real shocker in Mauer’s story came in an anecdote Mr. Bell told to explain why he wouldn’t be influenced by the politics of his clients, should he be elected. According to Bell, he wouldn’t be susceptible to bribery because a backer of the private prison to be built by Veco and others tried to bribe him as a municipal assemblyman in 1996. He told Mauer, “They approached me and said we got a whole bunch of money here for your re-election campaign and we’ll give you the engineering contracts and everything.”
But Bell said “no” to the very unpopular South Anchorage prison that Veco wanted him to support.
Mauer wrote that Bell did not report the offer of a bribe to law enforcement authorities. “Told that the offer of an engineering contract in return for his support of the prison as an assemblyman could be a crime, Bell replied:
Sorry if you just spit coffee out your nose. I did when I read it the first time.
Are you kidding me?
After literally years of front-page coverage of the “Corrupt Bastards Club,” aspiring state senator Bob Bell still didn’t know that trying to bribe an elected official is illegal?!
Bell could have reported the attempt to local police, state troopers or the FBI, but he didn’t.
So let’s review what we’ve learned. Bob Bell took no action though he was absolutely aware that
someone was willing to bribe public officials to get favorable public policy for the Veco private prison.
I’m grateful for a lawmaker who, under similar circumstances, made a different choice than Bell. When handed an envelope of cash, then-Sen. Mike Szymanski handed it back and immediately called the FBI, which tipped the first domino in an investigation that lasted three years. Had Bell made a similar choice, the corruption would have ended a lot sooner.
This week Bell attended the Architects and Engineers lunch and candidate forum. When he was asked how citizens could get good legislation passed in Juneau, he surprised many in the audience by telling them about former Republican House member Joe Green, who had said campaign contributions are what count.
Really? Isn’t that called Pay to Play?
All of this leaves me wondering: Can Bob Bell tell the difference between business as usual and an actual crime?
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 affiliates KYUR Channel 13 in Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.