Anchorage Assembly candidate drops out rather than reveal tutoring clients

A few weeks ago, Shirley Nelson, a retired teacher who chairs Anchorage's budget advisory commission, decided to run against Dick Traini for his Midtown seat on the Anchorage Assembly.

She filed paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Dec. 21 so she could start collecting campaign donations. But then Nelson ran into what was, for her, a problem: She was required by the state to disclose the names and addresses of the clients of her private tutoring business and how much each paid her. All her tutoring subjects were children and the actual clients were their parents.

Within days, Nelson said, she withdrew from the race.

"I have 20 to 30 clients, and they (APOC) wanted full names, addresses, and how much money they paid me … that's just way too intrusive," Nelson said in a phone interview Wednesday. She said her clients include the parents of handicapped children and felt the disclosure requirement would betray their trust.

"When you get that kind of trust … I can't with good heart disclose anything, especially the addresses," she added. "It's not fair to the kids."

It's possible to apply for an exemption from APOC. But Nelson she wouldn't have time to go through the advisory hearings to meet deadlines for the April election. She also said it didn't appear there was an exemption that applied to her situation.

Paul Dauphinais, executive director of APOC, said the state requires candidates who are self-employed to disclose clients who pay them more than $1,000 a year.

He said some exemptions are automatic, such as for adoption attorneys. He said the commission has occasionally granted exemptions for listing addresses for safety reasons, such as if clients were potential or actual crime victims.

He said there's good reason for the disclosure rules.

"It's transparency for the public," Dauphinais said. "So (the public) knows where the income for elected and appointed officials is coming from, and so they understand if these people may or may not be subject to any undue influence."

Assemblyman Bill Evans of South Anchorage, an attorney, disclosed his clients with APOC before winning office. In his case, he said, most of his clients are businesses and not individuals, so he didn't wrestle with it.

But he said Nelson is likely not the first to be deterred by the requirement.

"I think it's a huge difficulty, and one of the reasons we don't get a lot of candidates in certain professions," Evans said. "Lawyers, even accountants …"

Even without the disclosure requirement, Evans said, Assembly members would still be obligated under ethics rules to disclose whether legislation had an impact on a client.

Referencing lawyers, Dauphinais pointed out the state doesn't require candidates to provide the scope of their work for a given client. He said the disclosure simply indicates that a candidate is providing legal services to certain people.

A longtime teacher whose assignments have included Bush villages, Nelson, 60, said she wanted to focus on the sustainability of the city budget and its reliance on property taxes.

She said she leans more to the conservative side of politics; Traini, the chair of the Assembly, generally votes with the Assembly's liberal bloc. Traini is seeking a third consecutive term.

Nelson said she was prepared to disclose her financial information, but did not expect that she'd have to list names and addresses of clients.

"It's not worth it for me," Nelson said. "Even though I'm passionate about where the city is heading ... I'm more than happy to stay in the background."