APOC blasts bill changing campaign disclosure rules

Members of the Alaska Public Offices Commission today (Tuesday) blasted the legislature for a bill that would ease the state’s electronic campaign disclosure requirement.

House Bill 311 exempts candidates who don’t have a computer or broadband Internet access at home. A Senate amendment would excuse sitting lawmakers from the requirement for as long as they hold office. The bill also delays the electronic disclosure requirement for one year – until February 2013 – and prevents APOC from changing reporting requirements in the middle of an election cycle.

The bipartisan Public Offices Commission was unanimous in its opposition to the legislation. Commissioner Kathleen King – a public member from Anchorage – noted the legislature passed the electronic reporting requirement in 2007 after some lawmakers were ensnared in a federal corruption probe.

“That statute committed APOC to develop this filing system, these databases, to collect this information electronically, and legislators have known that this day was coming,” said King. “And I think the current bill weakens that statute considerably. And in fact, many of those legislators that supported the 2007 amendments support this one. And I just don’t think that we should wait until the next political fiasco to amend the statute back.”

Legislators have complained that APOC’s online reporting system is slow, cumbersome, and not-user friendly. But Republican Commissioner Kenneth Kirk from Anchorage says he doesn’t see any significant hurdles for lawmakers to overcome.

“Frankly, I have trouble seeing that it’s a major imposition on those campaigns,” Kirk said.

Anchorage Republican Representatives Craig Johnson and Mike Hawker called-in to the meeting from the Capitol to defend HB 311. Johnson says it fixes deficiencies in the current statute that could prevent some people from running for office.

“I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but 17 percent of Alaskans have no access to Internet – none – and if you go beyond that into the people that have dial up, that number goes up to almost 20 percent, 25 percent,” Johnson said. “And this is typically the very poor and the people in rural Alaska. And by implementing this policy you have effectively excluded those people from running for office.”

Commissioners reminded Johnson that the legislature implemented the policy, not the commission.

Democratic Commissioner Shirley Dean of Juneau also noted that candidates can apply for a waiver to the electronic reporting requirement, and that certain campaigns – including for municipal office in communities of less than 15-thousand people – are automatically exempt from the rule.

“This bill really does not need to happen, because everything in it is covered by our waivers that’s currently in regulation,” Dean said.

House Bill 311 was fast-tracked through both chambers of the legislature before the commission could comment on it. APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais expressed his staff’s concerns at three committee hearings.

The bill appears headed for a conference committee unless the Senate agrees to drop the provision exempting sitting lawmakers from the electronic reporting requirement. The House rejected that change on Monday.