Looking at the "Alaskans for Integrity" ballot initiative, one cannot help but sense what Yogi Berra called, "déjà vu all over again."
The initiative's lead sponsors are Rep. Jason Grenn, an Anchorage independent who joined with the House Democrat majority last year, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat. On its surface, the effort appears aimed at tightening restrictions on legislators' conflicts of interests and contacts with lobbyists. For good measure, it would make per diem contingent on lawmakers passing a fully funded budget.
But what the "Alaska Governmental Accountability Act" really would do is gut any notion of Alaska's citizen Legislature and make the House and Senate playgrounds for the rich by making rules so ridiculously stringent and unfair many Alaskans could not — or would not — serve.
The campaign — and there is not much Alaskan about it — is chock-full of oddities, so many that it is painfully reminiscent of 2010's euphemistically tagged "Alaska Anti-Corruption Act," which simply was an assault on the Constitution disguised as reform.
Oh, that proposed anti-corruption measure looked swell back then. Its backers took advantage of 2007's federal political corruption probe in Alaska and cornered enough suckers to sign petitions for it to win a ballot spot. It would have banned this and barred that — and deprived about half of Alaska of First Amendment rights relating to elections and campaigns.
Its backers took a powder when people started wondering about the effort's funding. Alaskans for Open Government pushed the measure, but failed to timely disclose its 2008 and 2009 finances to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The campaign watchdog's staff recommended a nearly $340,000 fine for, well, not being open. Alaskans for Open Government eventually paid a $220 fine. Go figure.
The measure remained on the ballot, but voters handed it a shellacking.
Despite its Alaska face, the Integrity initiative's contributions come from outside the state, mostly from two organizations and hundreds, if not thousands, of small donations — from everywhere but Alaska.
Alaskans for Integrity ended the fourth-quarter last year reporting income of $259,366. The lion's share came from Represent.US. It claims to be a nonpartisan, nonprofit group headquartered in Florence, Massachusetts, working to institute "anti-corruption" measures across the nation to pave the way for a federal American Anti-Corruption Act. "Fixing Corruption Can Fix Everything," it trumpets on its website.
End Citizens United is a large Integrity non-monetary donor for digital fundraising consulting. The San Francisco-based group's website identifies it as "Democrats fighting for reform."
Alaskans for Integrity's first-quarter 2018 Alaska Public Offices Commission filing shows hundreds of electronically sent $5, $10 and $15 donations from Outside and large contributions from Represent.US. The first-quarter take this year totaled $51,565.84.
Total contributions, as of April 4, were $310,932 — with $215,086 from Represent.US and $12,131 from End Citizens United. As in the fourth-quarter report, there were no Alaska donors.
It boils down to this: Large, monied, out-of-state interests — as with the failed anti-corruption campaign of a few years ago — are trying to shoehorn Alaska politics into their mold, for their own ends. Alaskans for Integrity is simply the latest example.
Ballot initiatives seem nifty to the uninformed, but present a real danger. They are convenient back doors for special interests to artfully push their aims, neatly sidestepping pesky governmental checks and balances to avoid the fuss and muss of the legislative process. No vetting. No oversight. No public hearings. No discussion of consequences.
The late Washington Post columnist David Broder was no fan of them, either. In "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money," he concludes the initiative process represents 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."
Legislation mirroring the Integrity initiative was passed by the Alaska Legislature earlier this year and is on Gov. Bill Walker's desk to be vetoed, signed or allowed to become law without his signature. If the legislation becomes law, the initiative could be moot.
But if the Alaskans for Integrity initiative survives to make the ballot, Alaskans should vote no to preserve our citizen Legislature from manipulation by Outside interests.
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