FAIRBANKS — Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan today unveiled a proposal to reform the state ethics act. Former Gov. Sarah Palin said alleged abuses of the act drove her, in part, to resign her office.
His plan would create penalties for abuses of the ethics act, would allow the state to foot legal bills for exonerated public officials, and would extend greater confidentiality for complaints.
During a press conference, Sullivan said several months of ethics complaints against Palin, as well as potential abuses, propelled the lengthy report, which is part legal opinion and part research document.
He said the opinion will seek to re-balance the need for an ethics act and opportunity for citizens to launch complaints, with the need to protect people in public service and to protect the long-term interests of Alaska. People filing a complaint are not barred from speaking publicly about their charges against executive branch officials.
The law now allows for “very sensitive, predispositional, confidential reports to be provided to the media, harming the subject of the ethics complaint,” and fails to prohibit abuse of the act, Sullivan said. In addition, public officials doing their job must foot legal bills even if vindicated.
A report by an independent counsel detailing a complaint against Palin was leaked to Alaska media outlets several weeks ago.
Among the recommendations, Sullivan is proposing that the state have the option of paying for legal fees incurred by state officials who are the subject of complaints, providing that the official is exonerated, the fees are reasonable and a funding source is available. Further, the official would have to have acted in the scope of his employment or office.
Sullivan said the attorney general’s office will hold public hearings on his recommendations, many of which would need to meet legislative approval to become changes in law.
“I am confident that what we have produced today is a serious, well-researched document that we think will help inform the serious discussion that we think is important for all Alaskans to have on this,” Sullivan said.
Announcing her plans to resign as governor, Palin cited the hefty legal bills incurred defending herself again ethics complaints, as well as the costs to the state to investigate alleged ethics violations and to comply with public records requests.
She’s contended with nearly 20 complaints against her, ranging from whether her office could use Yahoo! for state e-mail business to whether she was profiting from her office by wearing an Arctic Cat coat at a snowmachine race. The Associated Press reported that Palin claims to be $500,000 in debt due to legal bills related to those complaints.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner