Progressives Have Repurposed Alaska’s Legislative Ethics Committee as a Weapon Against Conservatives

(Ethics Committee members Skip Cook & Conner Thomas talk with a legislator during an ethics trial)

With state budgets currently in the tens of billions of dollars, you might expect a certain amount of corruption in politics. Elections are supposed to tamp down that corruption to acceptable levels, but what happens when you bypass elections in order to “fight corruption in politics” and end up with a law enforcement agency controlled by hyper-partisan, decades-long appointees who will never have to run for office?

Such is the case with Alaska’s “non-partisan” Legislative Ethics Committee, the only committee in the legislature comprised of a majority of members who never have to seek election. Consequently, it is also the committee over which Democrats and progressives exercise the most control, regardless of what happens on Election Day.

In 2024, Republican voters outnumber Democrat voters in Alaska 2-to-1. On the Legislative Ethics Committee that situation is reversed, with Democrats and former Democrats outnumbering Republicans more than 2-to-1 on the committee.

Over the years, this one committee has done more to maintain the power of progressives in the legislature than any other committee. They harass legislators, drag them through years-long legal proceedings, either initiated by members of the committee or by left-wing activists, and then make targeted legislators pay the full cost of their own defense, even when they are found innocent of all charges.

If legislators are ever deemed “too conservative” for Juneau, sooner or later they will be hauled before the Ethics Committee, which will then be used to help convince them to either be less conservative or to exit the legislature. If you want to know why Sen. Lora Reinbold did not run for re-election, you need look no further than what she experienced at the hands of our “non-partisan” Ethics Committee. 

In 1992, the last year that Democrats held a majority in the state house and were also able to keep a Democrat speaker of the house in office, legislators passed Senate Bill 185. Overnight, the Ethics Committee went from a majority of its members being selected by the legislature, to a majority being selected by the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. This change effectively granted permanent control of the committee to progressives. Consequently, the “non-partisan” committee that currently has the most control over your elected legislators is also the most partisan committee in the Alaska Legislature, and has been for years.

Legislators have the ability to correct this by refusing to confirm partisan appointees to this committee. Unfortunately, many legislators opt not to rock the boat and vote to simply rubber stamp these appointees, year, after year, after year, no matter how partisan the appointees are.

Notionally, two legislators sit on the committee whenever the committee is performing its law enforcement function. However, legislators are barred from serving in leadership roles on the committee, serve shorter terms of office than their public member counterparts, and are often called upon simply to affirm the decisions made by the public members.

There are five public members of the Ethics Committee and one alternate, all of whom are appointed by the chief justice. Three of the six appointees are either current or former Democrats.

There are no Republicans.

Knowing this, perhaps it should come as no surprise that every investigation published by the committee since 2020 has exclusively targeted some of the most conservative legislators in the house and senate.

This is what conservative legislators are up against in Juneau today.

Of the six appointees to the committee, five signed the petition to recall Governor Dunleavy before the first list of 49,000 signatures was turned in to the Alaska Division of Elections. The only public member of the committee whose name did not appear on that initial list of signers was Joyce Anderson, a progressive activist who is currently suing the Dunleavy administration with the help of the ACLU.

When it comes to campaign donations, none of the six appointees to the committee have ever donated to Michael Dunleavy. By way of contrast, one member of the committee, Conner Thomas, made more than a dozen donations to Dunleavy’s opponents.

This is not simply a short-term problem. Most of the public members of this committee have either served on the committee, or been employed by the committee, for more than twenty years. The attorney hired by the committee has been on contract for more than twenty years as well. The one contract investigator hired by the committee has a tenure that spans decades as well. I’m sure you get the picture.

Conner Thomas is a lifelong Democrat who was first appointed to the Ethics Committee in 1998 as an attorney and a member of the ACLU. He has served continuously on the committee for more than twenty-five years. While a member of the Ethics Committee, he signed the petition to recall Governor Dunleavy. While a member of the Ethics Committee, he donated to Democrat and progressive causes more than twelve hundred times.

In addition to donations to the Alaska Democratic Party, he has also donated to groups like Stop Republicans and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC), whose goal is to increase the number of Democrats in the Alaska Legislature. He has been elected Chair of the Ethics Committee by his fellow committee members numerous times. He most recently chaired the Ethics Committee in 2022.

Skip Cook is a former Democrat who was first appointed to the Ethics Committee in 1997 as an attorney with a master’s degree in political science. He has served continuously on the committee for more than twenty-six years. While a member of the committee, he signed the petition to recall Governor Dunleavy. After working as an elections supervisor, he was a registered Democrat for more than 23 years before switching to Non-Partisan. During his confirmation hearing, he could not remember being a member of the Democratic Party.

He most recently chaired the Ethics Committee in 2023. During his confirmation hearing, it was stated that the Ethics Committee supports his reappointment for the sake of “continuity”. Were he to be reappointed and serve another four years on the committee, he will have continuously served on the Ethics Committee for more than thirty years.

Joyce Anderson was first hired by the Ethics Committee in 2001. She has worked for, or been appointed to, the Ethics Committee for twenty-three years; and sometimes both at the same time. She has also been an officer in the progressive League of Women Voters for the last twenty-four years. She is currently suing Lieutenant Governor Dahlstrom and the Alaska Division of Elections with the help of the ACLU.

As chair of the Anchorage Election Commission, she was credited with helping bring vote-by-mail to the Municipality of Anchorage. While a member of the Ethics Committee, she has pushed for the legislature to adopt automatic statewide vote-by-mail. While appointed to the committee, she accepted a $50,000 government contract from her fellow committee members. When asked during her confirmation hearing whether it was appropriate to accept a contract from the committee while appointed to the committee she explained that the committee had (retroactively) granted her a temporary leave of absence and she did not see a problem with it.

When asked by her fellow committee members what her hourly rate was under her contract, she replied that she did not know. When asked during her confirmation hearing what her hourly rate was, she refused to answer. Upon closer review, her contract was instead employment as a legislative employee with full benefits and an hourly rate of more than $60/hr. She was elected Chair of the Ethics Committee in 2019, and as chair of the subcommittee that investigates members of the House of Representatives in 2023.

Jerry McBeath is a former Democrat who was first appointed to the Ethics Committee as a Non-Partisan in 2020. He is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and ran unsuccessfully for the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly in 2017. Before that he served as President of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board while a Democrat. He signed the petition to recall Governor Dunleavy. While appointed to the Ethics Committee, he donated to Yes on 2 (Ranked Choice Voting). Between 2014 and his appointment in 2020, he donated to five candidates for the legislature, all of them Democrats.

These four appointees make up a majority of the committee entrusted with investigating and prosecuting members of the Alaska Legislature. Even without the support of the fifth member or one of the legislative members, these four decide who in the legislature will be investigated, prosecuted, and found guilty by the committee.

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives will soon be voting on whether or not to allow two of these appointees (Skip Cook and Joyce Anderson) to serve up to four more years on the Ethics Committee.

This will be an important vote to watch.

Please reach out to your legislator immediately to ensure that he or she gets it right.