The Alaska Legislature's ethics panel decided Thursday to start letting legislators campaign during trips on the state's dime, including raising money for their races.
The Select Committee on Legislative Ethics adopted a new policy declaring it's OK to campaign on a state-paid trip so long as the primary purpose of the trip is state business. The committee previously took the position that combining state-paid travel with political campaigning wasn't allowed, a stance deeply disliked by legislators who argued it was particularly unfair to rural lawmakers.
The ethics committee, which rules on what legislators can and can't do, is a mix of public members and legislators. Three of the four public members who attended Thursday's meeting voted against the new policy. But all four legislators voted in favor.
Gary Turner, one of the public members who voted against the new policy, said it would be unfair to challengers trying to unseat incumbents.
"This gives such an advantage to the incumbent when it is an election season, when you can go ahead and fly for a legislative purpose and combine that with fundraising or with campaigning. The (challenger) would have to pay for such a trip out of his or her pocket," Turner said.
But Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara responded there are times when incumbents are stuck in special session while their challengers can campaign. Gara said banning any mixing of state travel and campaigning meant he was free to go to a Democratic Party fundraiser after a legislative meeting in Anchorage but a lawmaker in town from Nome could not. That's not fair to them, Gara said.
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