Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alaska State Rep. Bob Lynn To Draft Legislation Prescribing A Gag Order On Public Discussion Of Ethics Complaints Against The Executive Branch

From Palin to homos and back to Palin would think nothing else is going on in Alaska. Unfortunately, those are the two hottest topics in the state now, or at least moreso in Anchorage.

And the latest political story of interest touches on Governor Sarah Palin. House District 31 Representative Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage Hillside) is drafting legislation that would have the effect of imposing an ex officio gag order on public discussion of an ethics complaint against the state's executive branch until it is resolved. He wants to stop ethics complaints against the governor or members of the governor's staff from being publicly discussed unless the state finds they have merit.

Rep. Lynn posted the full press release of his intent on his official legislative blog. He notes that public discussion of ethics complaints against the legislative branch have been proscribed for years, and he wants the same ground rules applied to complaints against the executive branch for the sake of horizontal consistency. Rep. Lynn was also motivated by the fact that the ethics complaint process appeared to become a feeding frenzy for Governor Palin's critics, in light of the fact that the 14 complaints filed against Palin during a nine-month period, four by Andree McLeod alone, have all been dismissed. Rep. Lynn believes it's unfair for an unsubstantiated ethics complaint to be plastered all over the media before it's even investigated, and that this phenomenom can invite copycat frivolous complaints by people with a political agenda, wasting public money and the time of everybody involved.

If passed, the bill would not result in an upsurge in litigation. A complainant would not incur criminal or civil liability if he discusses a complaint publicly before its resolution. Instead, it would merely provide the same rule for complaints against the governor and all others who work in the state’s executive branch – talk about the complaint publicly, and it’s automatically dismissed on the spot. Rep. Lynn expects to introduce the draft legislation during the upcoming second session of the 26th Legislature, set to convene January 19, 2010 in Juneau. YouTube video of June 19th KTUU report now available and embedded below:

And to no one's surprise, Andree McLeod has already reacted to this news. McLeod opined that Rep. Lynn was on the wrong track, accusing him of wanting to make the complaint process more secretive, and claiming that this will only serve the interests of public officials. McLeod obviously doesn't know the difference between "secret" and "sacred". Additional reaction in the form of 110 comments to date appended to the ADN Alaska Politics post.

Analysis: Excellent move by Rep. Lynn. Since there is plenty of time before the next legislative session begins, I recommend he consider adding a provision to the legislation that would permit the Personnel Board, who receives these complaints, to assess a nominal deposit upon the complainant (perhaps $100 or so). If the complaint is dismissed, the deposit is forfeited to the state; if it is substantiated, the deposit is returned to the complainant. This additional measure will help screen out even more frivolous complaints and prevent the process from being used as a strategem of political warfare.

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