Here's the first question that comes to mind in considering the case of Dan Coffey, fined by the Alaska Public Offices Commission for failing to register as a lobbyist during the last legislative session and for making campaign contributions that were illegal for a lobbyist to make:
How did a man -- a politician and a lawyer, for crying out loud -- who has lobbied hither and yon, not know the law and how it applied to him?
Answer: He knew.
Coffey has been a lobbyist, an attorney for special interests before government entities, an Assemblyman, consultant, dealmaker and political insider for decades. Not only does he know the ropes, he knows how to tie them in knots.
Further, he told the Anchorage Port Commission shortly after he was hired by the Anchorage Assembly -- at the behest of Mayor Dan Sullivan -- that he would register as a lobbyist, and would be working out of another lobbyist's office. He said he'd already been meeting with legislators. He was working on the Legislature before the Legislature was in session.
Yet he first told the Alaska Public Offices Commission that he didn't believe he'd lobbied more than 10 hours in any 30-day period, thus coming in under the threshold that would require him to register.
And while working as an unregistered lobbyist, Coffey greased the legislative wheels with about $7,500 in campaign contributions to 20 candidates. That's wide-ranging civic interest for a man who's not lobbying.
Which brings a second question to mind: If Coffey was indeed working only 10 hours a month, as he first claimed, why was the cash-strapped city of Anchorage, always talking layoffs and cuts, paying him $60,000?
In his settlement and agreement to pay fines ($4,322 for failure to register as a lobbyist and $7,500 for giving illegal campaign contributions), Coffey admitted that he should have registered and shouldn't have contributed. His attorney says he's eager to pay up and move on.
Sure. Why not? Anchorage taxpayers will make sure he comes out ahead. It's probably too much to hope that his sole-source contract with the city actually required him to conduct our business legally.
One more point: Alaska should have clean, simple, tough laws about lobbying. What we get instead are lawmakers who make exceptions, give allowances and punish with wrist slaps. That should stop but probably won't as long as lobbyists are able to put money in the pockets of the people who write the laws.
Anyone paid to lobby the Legislature should register, whether he lobbies five minutes a month or 100 hours a week, and he shouldn't be allowed to make campaign contributions to anyone for whom he can't cast a ballot.
BOTTOM LINE: Lobbyist Dan Coffey knew the law, but chose not to follow it.