Thursday, January 18, 2007

Setting a foundation for Open Honest Ethical Government.

Setting a foundation for Open Honest Ethical Government.

Proposed By Ray Metcalfe. January 17, 2007.



The shear magnitude of the improprieties of Ben Stevens, VECO, and Fish Marketing Board, which APOC allowed to persist for years, and in some cases defended, makes clear that now it is time to devise a new political watchdog. Think of the proposal below as a new framework for defining and enforcing of the dozens of new ideas that are likely to be proposed over the next few months.

  • I propose that APOC be discarded and replaced with a new commission. I recommend a new commission, (at a minimum, those who set in judgment of complaints), be created within the Judiciary branch of government. I recommend this for two reasons.

  1. APOC is dependent on funding from the legislators they are expected to police and their funding appropriations are subject to the Governor’s veto. Every time APOC did the right thing, whether the complaint involved the Governor or a member of the majority in the legislature, their funding was either threatened or cut.

Once moved to the Judiciary, the Court would decide what portion of the Judiciary’s budget APOC’s replacement would receive and how much staff they required. I would expect it to include record keeping staff, staff to review and advise filers of incomplete filings, and at least one investigator unless an investigator in the judiciary it is determined to be in conflict with the constitutionally required separations of powers.

  1. Currently, two of APOC's five Commissioners are hand picked by that standard bearer of Republican ethics Randy Ruedrich. Another two are picked by the leaders of the Democratic Party. All but one of the five Commissioners has a vested interest in protecting their fellow party members from accusations of improprieties. Future Commissioners should be picked by a majority vote of the Alaska Supreme Court, from a list of qualified applicants recommended by the Judicial Council.

  • I propose that all responsibilities currently in the purview of the Legislative Ethics Committee be transferred to a newly formed Commission in the Judiciary and the existing Legislative Ethics Committee also be disbanded.

  1. In May of 2006, the State Senate passed a bill that would impose a $5,000 fine on anyone who talks about filing or intending to file an ethics complaint against a Legislator. Former State Senate President Ben Stevens not only served on the ethics committee, he sat in judgment of himself and he voted in favor of the proposed $5,000 fines mentioned above.

  • The New Commission should be empowered to address all public corruption in whatever form it takes. I propose that all restrictions concerning what statutes APOC’s replacement has the authority to enforce be lifted.

  1. APOC’s most frequent excuse for not perusing a remedy for Ben Stevens’ obvious fraud was to say “Not My Job.” In example, when I brought clear evidence of bribery to the attention of APOC staff, I was told to take it up with the Legislative Ethics Committee on which Ben Stevens sat.

  • I propose the creation of an “Anti-Public Corruption Unit” of not less than three “non-exempt” officer positions (non-exempt meaning they cannot be fired for investigating a powerful public official). Such an office should be within the State Troopers and filled by officers trained in the investigation of public corruption.

  1. Reducing public corruption will pay for its cost many times over. Given the opportunity to address an audience willing to listen long enough to understand the issues, I can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that our failure to police public corruption has cost this state tens of billions of dollars due to unnecessary losses resulting from legislators and former governors who gave away our oil for a pittance of its real value to Alaska.

  2. If the FBI can find enough work cleaning up our act to busy dozens of agents for a couple of years, certainly we can find enough work for three new Troopers.

  • I propose adding a forty-eighth title to Alaska’s statutes, titled: “Open Honest Ethical Government.”

    1. Alaska currently has forty-seven titles in its statutes. Alaska’s statutes currently have a motley assortment of toothless disclosure, ethics, and campaign requirements that are strewn throughout our statutes and selectively enforced, depending on who’s in power and who’s asking for enforcement.

    2. Alaska’s statutes need to be rewritten from top to bottom and consolidated under a single easy to understand “Title 48, Open Honest Ethical Government.” Not only do such statutes need to be armed with serious criminal penalties, they need to include workable mechanisms for citizens’ enforcement, to include an abbreviated mechanism of recall for legislators who refuse to comply. (Abbreviated meaning a lower bar for recall. Signatures of 5% of those who voted in their last election, accepting that the question of whether or not they failed to comply should be appealable to the Courts. An abbreviated mechanism should not be available unless noncompliance can be demonstrated.

(Note: Contrary to Speaker Harris’s assertion that “our current statutes appear to be working,” they clearly are not. When enough signatures had been collected to begin the recall of Ben Stevens, the Division of Elections said we had no proof and tossed our petition. When we challenged the Division of Elections in Superior Court, the State provided Ben Stevens and the Division of Elections with seven attorneys to oppose us. The Court once again said “we had no proof.” When the Superior Court ruled against us, Ben Stevens tried to shackle the volunteers for his recall with his attorney’s fees. (We were not investigators and should not have been held to the proof standard nor should we have been expected to prove our case within the statutory limit of a 200 word complaint. I suspect the eventual proof of Ben Stevens' skullduggery will fill a filing cabinet.

Believing that Ben Stevens' term of office would be over before we could get a ruling from the Supreme Court, we elected to take our complaints to APOC, who tossed our complaints and/or recommended “no penalty” over and over again. When we took our evidence to the Attorney General, his three page reply could have been summed up in three words. “Go Screw Yourselves.” We may have won in the Court of Public Opinion, but had it not been for the FBI, the “Good Old Boy System” may well have saved Ben’s Senate Seat. Clearly our current laws do not work.)

    1. In addition to appropriate criminal penalties for Courts to consider, compliance with “Title 48” needs to be a condition of holding any elected office or appointed position.

    2. It needs to be clear that the New Commission has the authority to remove any elected or appointed official who has refused to come into compliance, or in the Commission’s opinion, attempted to conceal substantive information that should have been disclosed, or if they attempted to deceive the public. This authority should be subject only to a review of the Courts, and in the case of a member of the Legislature, subject to over rule only by the Courts or a majority vote of both houses of the Legislature.

    3. Just as it is a crime for people of authority to remain silent over child abuse, it needs to be a crime for a fellow Legislator to remain silent when he or she possesses knowledge of bribery or other criminal infractions of the newly created “Title 48 Open Honest Ethical Government: AS:48:01-99”

(I provided every legislator with several packets of information demonstrating evidence of Ben Steven’s bribery. I received two responses. (1.) We in the Senate Minority can’t afford to rock the boat; we need to preserve what little working relationship we have with the Senate Majority. (2.) A note from a Member of the House Majority reading “Not in this office Ray”)

  • I propose a constitutional amendment barring all closed door meetings of the Legislature and all other forms of secrecy in the discussion, and/or conduct of Alaska’s economic interests.

    1. As a legislator I was a reluctant to participant in closed door meetings. In hindsight, I cannot think of a single subject we ever debated behind closed doors, that wouldn’t have better served the public’s interest if it had been discussed in the light of day for all to see and hear.

    2. Any legislator who says the subjects discussed in closed caucus meetings “are restricted to strategy and procedural questions” is lying.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ben Stevens Sour Grapes

Ben Stevens accused of ethics violations

JUNEAU - Days before he leaves office, state Senate President Ben Stevens is accused of multiple violations of financial disclosure rules.

Alaska Public Offices Commission staffers are recommending thousands of dollars in fines be imposed by the five-member panel, which meets in Anchorage this week.

The commission is tentatively scheduled to take up the issue on Thursday.

Two complaints against Stevens, R-Anchorage, were brought by the Republican Moderate Party, which said the senator failed to disclose income from a consulting business and from his service on the board of directors of Semco Energy. Semco is the parent company of Enstar Natural Gas Co., Alaska's largest utility.

Commission staffers determined that in both cases, Stevens should have reported the income, said Brooke Miles, executive director of the commission.

Under state law, reporting income is required if there is a controlling interest in a company, but the statute doesn't specify what a controlling interest is.

Calls placed to Stevens’ office in Anchorage on Tuesday by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

Stevens has previously argued that the consulting firm in which he once had part ownership was not required to reveal its income sources because Stevens didn't have a controlling interest.

The company, Advance North, was established by Stevens and Trevor McCabe, a former legislative director for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Ben Stevens' father. McCabe now solely owns the company.

Stevens' argument "defies common sense," said Ray Metcalfe, a former state legislator who brought the complaint in 2005 on behalf of the party. He questioned who controlled the company if not Stevens.

APOC apparently agreed.

The commission decided Stevens did have controlling interest and should have reported payments to Advance North.

Alaska law allows a $10 per day penalty for late filings. The staff calculated late filings for 2004-2006 would reach $10,170 and recommended such a fine be assessed.

Stevens and Advance North received hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed payments during that time.

The Republican Moderate Party also claimed Stevens failed to report $74,000 in payments received from Semco Energy two years ago.

Stevens told the commission he had not reported the income because he deferred receipt under a company-offered program.

The commission, however, disagreed saying it qualified as income for 2005, citing the state's disclosure laws.

"Although the compensation could be deferred for IRS tax purposes, staff concludes that it still qualified as income under Alaska's disclosure laws in 2005 when it was earned," according to an APOC report.

APOC's staff recommended a $10-per-day fine for the 63 days that he failed to disclose the income.