Election will decide candidate disclosure
Level of financial disclosure on ballot
Proposition 1 on the Oct. 2 city election ballot asks voters whether the city should be allowed to opt out of the Alaska Public Offices Commission’s Public Official current financial disclosure requirements, and adopt its own financial disclosure form — one that reverts back to APOC’s public official disclosure law that existed prior to 2007. City officials, including council and mayoral candidates, planning and zoning commission members, and candidates running for those seats would still be required to report publically where they receive their income, their spouses and children’s income, and gifts in the previous year that could point to potential conflict of interest in their decision-making.
The requirements would not be as detailed or as intrusive as some. Particularly business owners felt the current APOC requirements, which mandate that they report all forms of income of $1,000 or more coming from all employees, customers or family members. The old requirement set the bar for public disclosure at earnings of $5,000 or more. The financial disclosure requirement currently is viewed by city council, and planning and zoning members as deterrence to people in the business community from running for public office, because they do not want to reveal the names and addresses of their business partners, customers, renters or family members. Some 119 Alaska communities have chosen to opt out of the latest requirements, and either have gone back to the earlier APOC requirements, abandoned all such requirements, or have formulated their own, according to APOC officials. The council voted recently to spend up to $1,500 to explain the proposition to the public. The last time it was proposed, in 2008, the proposition failed. The vote was 232 (56 percent) against opting out, and 185 (44 percent) votes supporting it.
Back then, the city had failed to communicate the issues involved to the voters prior to the election, council members said in a work session on the topic. The voters did not realize that public officials would still be held to public reporting requirements.
“We were in the midst of state-wide and nation-wide scandal at the time. There were indictments every day in the paper, so people were thinking everyone in elected office was pond scum,” said Assistant City Manager Ron Long.
APOC was created in the mid ’70s in response to the Watergate scandal.
“It’s the only state agency established by citizen’s initiative, which should tell you something,” said Alaska Public Offices Commission Executive Director Paul Dauphinais. The whole idea of the financial disclosure laws, he explained, was to create a level of transparency in government so that people could see who was working for whom, and whether those working relationships would create a conflict of interest.
They have been revised through the years, and the threshold has become higher now than in the past because what you can buy for $1,000 isn’t what you could buy before, he said. Even though probably half of the municipalities in Alaska have opted out of the current APOC requirements, the majority of those are extremely small Alaska towns and villages such as Chevak, Chignik, Nulato, Eek and Akhiok, Dauphinais said. The larger ones include Homer, Ketchikan, Fairbanks, Sitka City and Borough, City of Kenai, City of Kodiak and Aleutians East Borough.
While not advocating either for, or against Seward’s ballot initiative, Dauphinais said the information provided on APOC’s website, or by request, is increasingly being used by citizens and reporters. The website also reveals what contributions candidates for statewide offices are receiving from whom in campaign contributions, and what they are spending it on.
“We probably receive easily over 2,000 phone calls a year looking for information, so people do use this, Dauphinais said. And in each of the past few years that APOC has been actively training people how to use their website, the number of visits has gone up by another 10 percent, he said.