Alaskans set out to make their government more accountable to the people—and it just worked. The Alaska Legislature raised the bar for ethics and integrity in government by passing HB 44. The bill passed the Senate 13-6 and the House 39-1 with support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and Governor Bill Walker just signed it into law. This only happened because more than 45,000 Alaskans signed petitions to put a similar proposal, the Alaska Government Accountability Act, on the ballot.
It takes massive people-power to get politicians to pass laws to regulate their own actions. In this case, the people forced the Legislature to pass a law that legislators really didn't like. When incumbent politicians realized how popular this measure was, they scrambled to pass it, fearing the people would overwhelmingly vote for the measure in November and hold them accountable for inaction.
The people strongly favored these accountability solutions by a whopping 84 percent, according to polling conducted by Alaskans for Integrity, the group sponsoring the similar initiative. In a shocking twist for the current political climate, Alaskans from across the political spectrum favored these reforms.
The new law is a massive step forward for legislative ethics reform. The hardworking people of Alaska deserve a government that listens to them and pays attention to their needs—instead of engaging in pay-to-play politics and putting the people last. This law includes strong conflict of interest standards that require legislators to declare conflicts of interest before voting, and to excuse themselves from voting when they or a member of their family has a financial conflict of interest. The new law toughens lobbyist gift laws, prohibiting lobbyists from buying legislators alcoholic beverages and lavish meals. It helps reduce wasteful spending on foreign travel junkets by implementing a stricter foreign travel policy for legislators. And it holds the legislature accountable for doing their most important job—passing a budget—on time by blocking legislators from receiving their per diem after day 121 of the legislative session if they haven't passed a budget. It essentially makes "no budget, no pay" a governing principle.
We can win major political reform when we set aside our partisan differences and work together. Independent Governor Bill Walker made government accountability and transparency a priority for the legislative session and has praised the bipartisan legislative work on the bill. Alaskans for Integrity co-sponsors, Independent Rep. Jason Grenn, Democrat Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Republican activist Bonnie Jack, deserve credit for leading a campaign that created leverage for the people. Campaign manager Susanna Orr and general consultant Jim Lottsfeldt expertly guided the effort. Key partners included the Alaska AFL-CIO, the conservative group Take Back Our Republic, the progressive group End Citizens United, and my nonpartisan anti-corruption organization Represent.Us.
Alaska has once again proved why the state deserves national recognition as America’s leader for government accountability.
In 2006, seventy-three percent of Alaska voters backed a campaign finance reform measure that lowered contribution limits, expanded disclosure requirements, and tightened rules on lobbyists.
And in 2015, the State Integrity Investigation, a comprehensive assessment of state government accountability and transparency metrics created by two nonpartisan organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, ranked Alaska the top state in the nation.
Nearly sixty-five percent of Alaska voters supported an automatic voter registration measure in 2016. That win inspired a national wave of similar pro-voter wins in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington State and the District of Columbia.
Alaskans and all Americans should celebrate this latest reform win and have this success serve as a model and catalyst for many more.
Dan Krassner is the Political Director for Represent.Us, the nation's largest grassroots anti-corruption group