Corruption Risk in Alaska – Why a D+ Seems Generous

Q: Why does New Jersey have all the Superfund sites and California have all the lawyers?
A: New Jersey got to choose first.

The State Integrity Investigation describes itself as “a $1.5 million public collaboration designed to expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols — and spotlight the states that are doing things right.” It has conducted a study of the corruption risk – not the current level of corruption – in all 50 states.

The idea was to develop criteria to evaluate the risk of corruption. Judging by the number of convictions – Illinois’s four governors who have gone to jail; Massachusetts’ three consecutive house speakers who are in the pen – was deemed too variable. Aggressive prosecutors, federal enforcement when the state governments get corrupt; it was found to be an imprecise measure. Which is just as well, given Alaska’s recent history.

Alaska got a D+ and ranked 27th, just barely in the bottom half. Close call. We nearly flunked! New Jersey finished first.

The limits of WordPress won’t allow WC to put a full link to the graphic here, but here’s a screen shot of Alaska’s report card:

Alaska Corruption Risk Report Card

Not a report card you'd want to show to your parents.

Oddly enough, WC finds the grading to be too generous. If you’ve ever tried to find recent campaign financial reports in the Alaska Public Offices Commission’s on-line database, you know better than to give it a C+, and if you’ve ever tried to find lobbyist reports you know a C is incredibly generous. From the track record of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which is in charge of policing state judges, you’d think the judiciary deserved halos.

Ethics Enforcement Agencies? Two words: Ben Stevens. See what WC means? A C- is very generous. WC’s teachers were a lot tougher with the red pencils than the SII.

If Alaska indeed ranks 27th, the 23 states that are worse must be very bad indeed.

(Memo to The Newt: Perhaps you could direct your considerable energies to your avowed “home state” of Georgia which, on the evidence, could use some help. You have that personal experience in corruption, after all.)

The Anchorage Daily News’ Sean Cockerham has written a nice article on Alaska’s rating, which WC commends to this readers.


One thought on “Corruption Risk in Alaska – Why a D+ Seems Generous

  1. The Judiciary rating puzzled me, so I sampled some of the scoring, particularly the “0%” rating for this category:
    “In practice, the regulations restricting post-government private sector employment for state-level judges are effective.”
    and the “Reporter’s” comment in explanation cites no regulations in place but also no apparent instances to examine:
    “It is correct there are no regulations controlling a return to private sector work by a judge. There don’t seem to be many retired Alaska judges re-entering the private sector, either generally or returning to a legal practice. There are several cases of judges retiring and later taking posts on quasi-judicial state boards or commissions.”
    I suppose this shows the difficulty of an organization trying to examine details of each of the states, since it shows lack of familiarity with well known Alaska instances. It is generally accurate that not too many judicial officials rejoin the private sector. But we have a prominent instance since it is well known that a former (one-term chief) Justice of the Supreme Court retired after decades in the judiciary and joined one of the most prominent law firms in the state. I am NOT suggesting anything wrong about that, and I do not regard anything to be improper about it. But it points to the difficulty of an outfit like this trying to examine so many jurisdictions and failing to find the obvious or the well known. Interestingly, even the Executive Director of the Alaska Judicial Council–the outfit that vets judicial applicants–was once a District Court judge. But that doesn’t quite fit this category since he really hasn’t gone into private sector employment. As the comment notes, there are instances of judges joining quasi-judicial entities.
    Generally, I believe our rating for the Judiciary is inaccurate at just “C+.” Who knows how much this “0%” that I discussed above weighed down our score overall for the judiciary. No doubt there are other categories in which the SII assessed us inaccurately as to the judiciary out of unfamiliarity with context and facts, as in the instance of our former chief justice going into private practice. There’s nothing wrong with him doing that, and I know of no suggestion on anyone’s part that there was anything untoward about that.
    Locally, we had an instance some years ago of a trial judge who left the judiciary to join the District Attorney’s office. That makes for an interesting category that is overlooked here. At some point in that direct transition from judiciary to Assistant DA, there must have been some communication about employment, and that necessarily must have occurred while he was a judge. Presumably, from that point on he recused himself from all criminal cases. Perhaps they reached immediate agreement and he left the judiciary without having to address recusal. Don’t know, but I know of no suggestion that there was anything improper about the integrity of that person’s transition from judiciary to DA.
    Paul Eaglin

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