Commentary: Personnel board's 'loser pays' idea is too extreme

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

The state personnel board is understandably frustrated with the flood of unsubstantiated ethics complaints about Gov. Sarah Palin. In winning office, Gov. Palin presented herself as a paragon of ethical virtue, and a handful of critics stand ready to pounce at every instance where there is the slightest hint she might not measure up.

We've said before that the critics are jeopardizing the ethics complaint process with trivial charges and fishing expeditions. In general, lawmakers are not big fans of letting an ordinary citizen activate investigative machinery that checks into their behavior. Lawmakers don't need much in the way of excuses to curtail what they perceive as frivolous, politically motivated ethics charges.

The steady stream of nitpicking charges against Gov. Palin also detracts from more serious incidents, such as state payment of her children's travel.

But the way members of the state personnel board are venting their frustration doesn't help.

Al Tamagni has suggested something like a "loser-pays" rule: You file an ethics complaint that turns out to be "frivolous or meritless" and you'd have to pay part of the cost of investigating it. A version of the loser-pays rule applies to lawsuits in Alaska courts.

Loser-pays for citizen ethics complaints would be too extreme. The prospect of large financial exposure would discourage citizens from presenting legitimate complaints.

Allowing citizens a way to ensure that Alaska's public officials act ethically is a fundamentally important mission, one that shouldn't be restricted by the size of a citizen's checkbook.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.