Alaska’s Ethics Committee Engages in Election Interference and Violates Ethics Laws with Impunity (Part 1)

The Ethics Committee has requested $319,600 from the State of Alaska this year to carry out its duties under the Ethics Act.

It has also repeatedly refused to answer requests from legislators over how it spends those funds. If you knew nothing about this organization, that would be a red flag.

In the forty years since its creation, the Ethics Committee has never been audited. That would be a second red flag.

Because these are taxpayer funds, the Ethics Committee is expressly prohibited by the Ethics Act from seeking to influence elections. Under state law, public members of the Ethics Committee face perhaps the most severe restrictions on political activity of anyone in Alaska.

The political activities of non-partisan legislative employees are already strictly limited, but public members of the Ethics Committee must adhere to an even stricter set of legal restrictions on their conduct, especially their political activities.

Even Judges in Alaska are permitted by law to run for office as a delegate to a state or federal constitutional convention and to run for judicial office. Public members are not. Public members of the Ethics Committee are not permitted to participate in any campaign for any public office. They are even prohibited by law from participating in campaigns for non-partisan ballot measures such as initiatives and referendums.

Because of the legal firewall between the Ethics Committee and election activities, it would seem odd if highly partisan individuals, passionate about the outcomes of elections, were to be attracted to service on this committee. And yet, that is exactly what we see taking place today. This is a third red flag.

Instead of an agency of dispassionate public servants, the majority of the Ethics Committee is currently composed of members who have a vested interest in electoral politics. Of the five public members of the committee, two have degrees in politics or political science (Cook and McBeath), two have previously worked full-time in elections (Anderson and Cook), one has run for and held public office as a registered Democrat several times (McBeath), one has made more than a thousand political donations to Democrats and left-wing political groups while appointed to the committee (Cook), four participated in the petition to recall Governor Dunleavy, and the only member one who did not participate in that effort is so passionate about elections that she is currently suing the Division of Elections with the help of the ACLU (Anderson).

How odd. Why would individuals with a clear interest in the outcome of elections willingly embrace even greater restrictions on their political activity than those currently serving in the military? And why would a majority of the public members of the committee embrace these severe restrictions, quite literally, for decades?

The answer is simple enough: they don’t.

As the final judge of who has (or has not) violated the Ethics Act, members of the Ethics Committee themselves violate the Ethics Act with impunity.

The Ethics Act expressly prohibits public members of the committee from participating in a political campaign for state office or for passage or defeat of a ballot measure “of any type“. Despite this clear prohibition, at least five of the six public appointees* to the Ethics Committee publicly took part in the effort to recall Governor Dunleavy. We know this because each of their signatures were formally submitted to the Alaska Division of Elections.

When publicly confronted on their obvious participation in partisan politics, the response from the committee during their last meeting was essentially “most Alaskans participated in the recall campaign, what’s the big deal?”

Having previously served on the committee myself, I have every reason to believe that the response from the committee was genuine. Most members of the committee are Democrats or former Democrats. The committee’s longest serving staffer donates exclusively to Democrat causes. If most of those in their political circles participated in the recall campaign, I can see how they might assume that most Alaskans participated in the recall campaign as well.

In truth, only 8% of qualified voters (46,405) signed the petition during round one of the recall campaign. It is therefore concerning that no less than five of the six public appointees to the committee participated in that effort. More to the point, those who participated in the recall effort while serving on the committee did so in direct violation of the Ethics Act they were sworn to uphold.

Year after year, progressive members of the Ethics Committee have sought to steer election results to the left. Sometimes, they have done so by publicly criticizing conservative legislators or making political donations to their opponents. At other times, they have targeted conservatives with endless investigations that serve to drain their resources and discourage them from continuing to serve in public office, much less run for re-election.

State law expressly forbids the public funds of the committee from being used to influence elections, and explicitly bars public members of the committee from making political donations for or against legislators. State law also bars the committee from publicly censuring a legislator unless they have admitted guilt in a proceeding, or been charged and found guilty following an ethics trial, but each of these laws are rendered moot by a committee that refuses to follow them.

In December, the committee determined, after a more than 18-month-long investigation, that I and another legislator were innocent of false charges that were made against us. However, the committee used the opportunity of announcing our innocence to publicly censure both of us in published press releases. The committee’s public accusations against us were false. More to the point, the committee knowingly violated state law when it sent out the press releases.

A favorite tactic of the committee is to pursue a lengthy and expensive investigation that far exceeds the actual complaint at issue. When the investigation fails to turn up anything incriminating, as is often the case, the committee then sends out a press release announcing to the media that a particular conservative legislator has violated the Ethics Act, but that no further penalties are warranted.

This provides fodder for media headlines, and campaign material for any future opponents the legislator might face at election time. It is also explicitly forbidden by the Ethics Act.

Earlier this week, the Ethics Committee issued one such press release to media outlets announcing that I had solicited campaign funds outside of campaign season. In reality, the only fundraising I have undertaken since 2022 has been for my legal defense fund, which the Ethics Committee has publicly declared is perfectly legal for legislators to do at any time. Yet, that didn’t stop the Ethics Committee from drafting and publishing a press release, or local media outlets from picking it up and trumpeting the news that yet another conservative legislator has violated state ethics laws.

State law prohibits these abuses from ever taking place. 

Before the committee can declare a legislator guilty of violating the Ethics Act, state law requires the committee to file charges. State law requires that every legislator be given time to respond to those charges, and to be publicly confronted by their accusers. State law guarantees every legislator the right to obtain copies of any evidence that will be used against them, the right to a public hearing or trial, the right to have someone other than the committee’s paid attorney present the case against the legislator, the right to cross-examine witnesses under oath, and other due process and procedural safeguards.

How can an innocent legislator appeal an unjust verdict if they were never charged or prosecuted, and the case is now closed? How can they present their evidence? They can’t. That is why state law forbids these types of abuses, and the Alaska Constitution explicitly provides that “The right of all persons to fair and just treatment in the course of legislative and executive investigations shall not be infringed” (Art. I, Sec. 7).

“Shall not be infringed.” Where else have we heard that before?

When I was a freshman legislator, the committee issued a similar press release declaring that I had violated the Ethics Act. In that particular case, as a freshman, I couldn’t have violated the Ethics Act even if I had wanted to, but that didn’t stop the committee from jumping the gun, issuing a press release, and announcing my guilt to the world, contrary to state law. I protested. The committee responded by putting me on trial six months later and sending out another press release publicly announcing my guilt before the matter had been put to a public vote, and just before the primary election.

When I pointed out again that state law prohibited the committee from sending out a press release declaring me guilty without even taking a public vote, the committee responded by delaying the public vote for four months, until just before the general election.

Five days before Election Day, the committee publicly declared my guilt to the world for the third time—and that was for a crime I couldn’t have committed even if I had wanted to. This is the treatment conservatives receive at the hands of Alaska’s Ethics Committee. Conservative voters are paying for this. No legislator worth their salt should be voting to perpetuate this kind of abuse.


* There are six current appointees to the Ethics Committee (five public members and one alternate). A legislator may fill one of the seats reserved for legislators, but legislators are prohibited from being appointed as a public member or serving in a leadership position on the committee.