What others say: The ease of conflict

  • Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:25pm
  • Opinion

In September 1976, the state of Alaska made a smart move.

In that month, the state convened the first meeting of the Alaska Salary Commission. The commission was created because the Alaska Legislature recognized that having legislators decide their own pay was a conflict of interest.

Since 1976, the salary commission and its successor groups have repeatedly made independent recommendations on the proper pay of legislators, the governor and the lieutenant governor.

At the start of this legislative session, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, proposed a bill that would delay the deadline by which elected officials — including legislators — are required to report their financial dealings from the previous year. This bill, HB65, doesn’t deal with legislators’ pay, but having legislators decide the date to declare their financial dealings to us seems almost as ridiculous as the idea that legislators should decide their own pay.

The rules of the Alaska Public Offices Commission state that elected officials must file a disclosure statement each year by March 15. That statement should include any business dealings that official had in the previous year. (Campaign contributions and election expenses are in a separate statement.)

Hawker’s bill seeks to change the due date to April 30. In his sponsor statement, Hawker said such a date would be more convenient because filers will have already accumulated their financial documents in order to meet the federal income tax deadline of April 15.

We’re sure Hawker means well, but delaying the disclosure date would mean the public wouldn’t know a legislator’s financial dealings until the end of the legislative session.

Moving the deadline would make it impossible for the public to judge whether a legislator (or other official) has a financial conflict in time to do something about it. Legislators are required to file a financial statement within 30 days after taking office, but that doesn’t cover long-serving legislators or people in the latter years of their office. Regular and frequent inspection is needed to insure no conflict exists. That conflict need not be malicious — it could simply be an oversight by the legislator involved.

If anything, we should be seeking an earlier deadline, not a later one. Regulations do not exist to make life easier for those affected by them. They exist to prevent harm — intentional or accidental — to the public. Elected officials have a great deal of power, but with power comes responsibility.

We restrict the ability of legislators to set their pay to protect them from themselves. Allowing lawmakers to set their own deadline for disclosing their financial dealings will only delay transparency — and at worse, accountability — for every legislative session to come.

— Juneau Empire, Feb. 4

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