“Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth. ”
― Will Rogers
Nathaniel Herz, a reporter for the the Alaska Dispatch News, called Senator Pete Kelly (R, Fairbanks) with some questions about his campaign finance reports. According to Herz:
Kelly wouldn’t answer a question about the POET accounts at a Friday news conference.
“That’s because your reporting is bull—-.”
This is what political corruption looks like: a mixture of disdain for the law and arrogant refusal to be held to account. And, remember, we are talking about the President of the Alaska State Senate.
Take it from WC, who went to law school in Chicago during the worst of the Richard J. Daley era. You know it when you see it. When a precinct that had been burned to the ground – nothing left but a scrubby wasteland – in the Martin Luther King riots in 1968 cast 3,900 votes for Mayor Daley in 1974, he solemnly announced, “The people has spoke,” and refused to answer any other questions. Disregard for the law and what Prof. Nate Rosenblum called “world class chutzpah.”
Flashback: Some of WC’s readers are old enough to remember that Dick Nixon, running for vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, was nearly thrown off the Republican presidential ticket because he had a slush fund and had used it to purchase a mink coat for his wife, Pat Nixon, from a donor. The incident was the genesis of the infamous “Checkers” speech, in which he defended himself with, among other things, the claim it was “a Republican cloth coat.” How far we have fallen.
The monies Herz was calling Senator Kelly about were campaign funds, which Kelly had spent on travel to a political fundraiser and a cell phone. Herz wanted to know why Senator Kelly thought those were legitimate expenses “associated with the candidate’s serving as a member of the Legislature,” as opposed to disallowed personal or political purposes.
Now, as Herz reported, Senator Kelly is hardly the only member of the Alaska Legislature who has made highly dubious use of campaign funds. But Senator Kelly is the Senate President, a leadership position, and widespread corruption comes from the top, from leadership.1 Which is why WC is calling Pete Kelly out. It’s no defense to say, “Everyone does it.” Especially if you are a leader. Alaskans pay every member of the Legislature a generous salary and a generous expense account precisely to reduce the risk of bribery and other illegal use of funds. For some politicians, WC concludes, that’s just not enough. They have to have a slush fund, too.
There are two possible solutions to corruption: prosecution or voter action. They are not mutually exclusive. The campaign contribution laws are largely toothless, but any citizen can file a complaint. But the better solution is to vote the bum out. This is only the most egregious, not necessarily the worst, of Senator Kelly’s many faults. It’s long past time to invite Senator Kelly to go find honest work. Alaskans cannot tolerate corruption because it spreads. It destroys confidence in public government. You can make the case it has already spread.
Again, thrown the bums out.
- You don’t have to look very far to find another leader who calls the media liars. Senator Kelly’s attitude toward the newspaper is strikingly similar to President Trump’s. Attitudes flow from the top down. ↩