Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, has filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Bill Walker for a statement included in a press release issued from Walker’s office on Wednesday morning.
The press release, which accompanied a six-page report outlining the consequences if the Legislature fails to balance the state budget, concluded with this paragraph:
“I will ask every legislator and every candidate for the Legislature to choose which of these three plans they support. Failure to choose a plan will constitute support for the No Action Plan (NAP). After Alaskans become familiar with the type of Alaska each of these three plans represents, voters will be much better informed about who should represent them in Juneau.”
The Alaska Republican Party, in a statement responding to the governor’s press release, said in part that “‘I will ask every legislator and every candidate…’ is code language for using the governor’s bully pulpit as a campaign stump.”
In a press conference Thursday morning, Walker said he has not ruled out the possibility of offering his support to legislators or candidates for the Legislature in this fall’s election.
Given his recent veto of half the Permanent Fund Dividend, “right now, I don’t know if I could help anybody,” he said. “I’m not sure if that would be any help.”
Wilson said she agreed with the Republican Party’s assertion and “to me, what he said today actually sealed it. He meant exactly what he wrote and then said.”
While it’s not illegal for a sitting governor to support a candidate for office, the governor cannot use state resources to do so. The Alaska Executive Ethics Act states that a public official cannot “use or authorize (a) … government asset or resource for partisan political purposes.”
In this case, Wilson’s complaint alleges that Walker’s official press release was used to do so.
Walker responded to the Republican Party’s accusation with a prepared statement Wednesday.
“I want to clarify that I am not trying to influence an election. I am trying to inform the public about what the legislature’s own analyst has called the ‘gravest fiscal crisis in state history,’” Walker wrote. “I want Alaskans to know the consequences of action and inaction. I regret any misunderstanding this may have created.”
Similar complaints have frequently been levied against sitting governors. In 2014, Gov. Sean Parnell was the target of a complaint by the Alaska Democratic Party. Gov. Sarah Palin was a frequent target of ethics complaints (most were dismissed) before she resigned.
In a 2009 legal opinion pertaining to one of the complaints against Palin, the Alaska Department of Law outlined the process that is followed when a complaint is filed against a sitting governor.
Normally, the attorney general investigates ethics complaints. When the complaint is against the governor, the state personnel board appoints an independent counsel to act instead.
The counsel investigates the issue and may dismiss the matter. If the complaint is not dismissed, the counsel issues a public accusation. This is followed by an evidentiary hearing in front of the personnel board. In the hearing, the board may penalize the defendant if the complaint is justified.
Jonathan Woodman, an attorney with the Alaska Department of Law who is familiar with the process, said there is no set timeline for the process.
Wilson isn’t the only person filing a complaint, either. On Thursday morning, Andrée McLeod of Anchorage announced she was filing a complaint along the lines of Wilson’s. In a letter attached to her complaint, she says the governor’s press secretary and assistant “can’t actively run a political campaign from his state office for or against legislators and candidates.”
McLeod’s complaint also states that Walker’s “plan to identify, target and brand legislators and candidates during this election season also runs afoul of campaign finance laws and regulations within the purview of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.”
McLeod was a frequent watchdog when it came to the Palin administration. She repeatedly filed requests for information and ethics complaints in an attempt to make sure public officials follow public records laws when they communicate, she said in 2009.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.