scales of justice (File photo)

scales of justice (File photo)

Opinion: The Dubious Dunleavy Deal to use public dollars for personal legal costs

In 2019, these regulation changes were ultimately abandoned without public notice

  • By Andrée Mcleod and Robin O’Donoghue
  • Saturday, September 9, 2023 2:30am
  • Opinion

It’s a tired game of deja vu: Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Attorney General Treg Taylor are again attempting to change regulations so that the State of Alaska has to cover legal costs for the governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor if they are under investigation for dishonest and unethical misconduct. The public has until Sept. 11 to tell them that, just like in 2019, we’re still not interested in footing the bill.

In 2019, these regulation changes, originally proposed by now-disgraced, then-AG Kevin Clarkson and prepared by then-Deputy AG Treg Taylor, were ultimately abandoned without public notice.

A 2019 legal opinion from Legislative Legal, the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal counsel, found the changes to be illegal as they potentially violate numerous clauses of the Alaska Constitution, including the public purpose, the separation of powers, and equal protection clauses. The DOL released a 321-page document that contained public comments. The vast majority of those public comments were opposed to the 2019 proposal.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AKPIRG) was opposed then, and is opposed now. This sweetheart deal cooked up by AG Taylor to propose changes to Alaska’s ethics regulations would authorize the use of inexhaustible state funds, assets, resources and personnel to foot their legal bills and defend them — even if they’re found to have violated the ethics law. Alaskans should not be discouraged from our few remaining avenues of holding our highest elected offices accountable.

We agree with former Alaska AG Jahna Lindemuth, who has said, “The attorney general is charged with representing the state of Alaska. The governor is not the client except to the extent he represents the state. Allowing the attorney general in his sole discretion to defend ethics complaints against the governor or lieutenant governor, or the Department of Law to defend the AG, is inappropriate and inherently inconsistent with the attorney general’s role. It is also an inappropriate use of state resources.”

Anchorage Sen. Matt Claman also disagreed with Taylor’s argument that the Department of Law (DOL) represents the top officials acting in their official capacity, and, therefore, should represent them in an ethics complaint. “The essence of an ethics complaint is that they’re acting outside their official capacity,” he said. Claman also said it would cut into the DOL’s limited time and money when it defends the governor instead of working on other cases.

Given the well-documented legal opinions and public testimony opposing this idea, we are left to wonder why the governor and attorney general are attempting to bring back this dubious plan. The general public is not privy to how many ethics complaints are filed, how much they cost the state to investigate, and how many are found to be credible or result in some type of action. Without this information, it is impossible for the public to grasp the full picture and truly know the impact these regulation changes would have.

The deadline for public comments is Sept. 11. Both can be submitted via email to ethics.regulation.public.comments@alaska.gov or mailed to PO Box 110300, Juneau, AK 99811-0300.

AKPIRG has already filed questions, which can be found here, and plans to file comments. If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to reach out to us at info@akpirg.org. We believe in the public’s right to hold our government accountable, and continue to believe that a bad idea in 2019 remains a bad idea today.

Andrée Mcleod is good government director for Alaska Public Interest Research Group. Robin O’Donoghue is policy and communications manager.

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