Democrat wants to stiffen political corruption laws

The Alaska Democratic Party says it wants the state to tighten corruption laws. But it's not ready to endorse a proposal by party official Ray Metcalfe to make it a felony for a legislator to pass a measure benefiting a campaign contributor.

Metcalfe, a member of the Democratic Party's central committee and a longtime anti-corruption campaigner, has been in Juneau this week pushing the idea. He wants to create a new crime in state law called "laundering public funds."

Metcalfe has a peripatetic history with Alaska political parties. He was a Republican legislator in the early 1980s, later founded the Republican Moderate Party, and now he represents the Independence Park area of Anchorage on the central committee of the Alaska Democratic Party. He's run for office in recent years, including a 2006 run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate.

Metcalfe said the state Democratic Party's Central committee last weekend endorsed his proposal. Party chairwoman Patti Higgins said that is not exactly so.

The party did approve a resolution calling on legislators to strengthen laws on exchanging money for political favors. It also said there should be an independent group in state government to pursue corruption. Metcalfe's plan is for a five-member "Public Integrity Section" to be created within the Alaska State Troopers.

Metcalfe wants to make it a crime to sponsor or vote for legislation that directs money or economic advantages to "past, present or sought-after" campaign contributors, employers or donors to independent groups supporting their election.

There could be an exception if the legislation is a broad policy issue that impacts a wide range of people and any benefit to the campaign donor is incidental.

Democratic chair Higgins said she sees problems with Metcalfe's proposal.

"I think it would be terrifically hard to prove. I think you could take many pieces of legislation and then go connect it to somebody and say it benefits them," she said. "I know what he's trying to get to, but I think his language would trap many innocent people."

Metcalfe argues it's too hard to prosecute bribery nowadays because the prosecutors must prove that the "winks, smiles and nods" meant a quid pro quo deal was being struck. He was in Juneau this week trying to get legislators to sign on as supporters of his plan. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck said he sent Metcalfe's proposal to the Legislature's drafters to be put in the form of a bill.

Tuck said that doesn't mean he'll introduce the bill, though. He said he wants to see what it looks like and talk it over with other members of the Legislature's ethics committee.