The Idiot’s Guide to Legislative Ethics

This blog post is dedicated to State Senator Peter Micciche, who may be challenged by the ethics part but has mastered the idiot concepts perfectly.

State Senator Peter Micciche is an employee of Conoco Philips, one of the Big Three oil companies in Alaska. He’s in management: the superintendent of a facility in Soldotna. And a shareholder in the company. There’s nothing wrong with that. WC has even worked for oil companies. However, the Senator has a “substantial economic interest” in the oil industry. We know that because the legislature – you know, that place to which Senator Micciche was elected – has defined the phrase for us. It happens where a person:

is a natural person and will be directly and substantially affected financially by a legislative, administrative, or political action in a way that is greater than the effect on a substantial class of persons to which the person belongs as a member of a profession, occupation, industry, or region.

Senator Micchiche will be affected – benefited – as an oil industry employee and shareholder in a way that the general workforce of Alaska will not. Admittedly, it’s not as clear as we’d all like, because the Legislature is nearly as bad at writing ethics laws as Senator Micchiche is at following them.

Because even the watered-down, hopelessly vague legislative ethics laws prohibit the Senator from voting, and presumably serving on committees as well, where he has such a “substantial economic interest.”

[A] legislator may not vote on a question if the legislator has an equity or ownership interest in a business, investment, real property, lease, or other enterprise if the interest is substantial and the effect on that interest of the action to be voted on is greater than the effect on a substantial class of persons to which the legislator belongs as a member of a profession, occupation, industry, or region.

Yet the media report that the Senator will be on the Senate Resources Committee and the Vice Chair of the subcommittee that writes Captain Zero’s new and improved tax break law for Big Oil. Conoco Philips must be very, very happy.

The rest of Alaskans? Not so much.

The patent ethics violation has been brought to the Senator’s attention. He attempted to wiggle out using two excuses. First, he tried to rely upon a 2008 legislative ethics opinion, Advisory Op. 2008-01. The committee found that then-Representative Kevin Meyer didn’t have a conflict because he didn’t have equity in the company, wasn’t in management and there was no appearance of impropriety. Senator Micchiche does have an equity interest, is involved in management and there is a strong appearance of impropriety. So that excuse doesn’t even pass the red face test.

The second excuse he offers is the claim “They’ve also had representatives that are attorneys for unions that sit on (the) Labor and Commerce (Committee).” Later in an ADN interview the Senator said he was referring to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. But Senator Wielechowski has refused to accept positions on Labor and Commerce because he is ethical and it is a conflict of interest. Oops.

To WC’s knowledge, Alaska law doesn’t give citizens the right to enforce ethics rules involving legislators. After all, we can’t have citizens telling their elected representatives what to do. But this stinks. The Republicans are already devolving into their own version of the Corrupt Old Bastards Club. All we need is for someone to order the hats.