Attorney General blasts legislative auditor for overstepping authority - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, November 27, 2020
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Attorney General blasts legislative auditor for overstepping authority

AUDITOR ADVISED PERMANENT FUND CORP. TO HIRE OWN ATTORNEY

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson blasted a state auditor today for what he says is a misinterpretation of state law by someone who has no legal role in interpreting the law.

In a stinging letter to Kristin Curtis, the director of the Division of Legislative Audit, Clarkson disputed claims in an April 22 letter Curtis sent to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s Board of Trustees regarding a fiscal year 2019 finding.

Curtis had made a legal conclusion about the amount of royalties that must be deposited into the Permanent Fund, and had suggested that the Board of Trustees of the Alaska Permanent Fund should hire a private attorney, rather than follow the advice of the Attorney General. Curtis wanted more money deposited into the Permanent Fund from royalty receipts the state had received from oil.

“You must seriously reconsider your course of action. The Department of Law recognizes the important role of the Legislative Auditor. But it is also absolutely clear under Alaska law that the Attorney General is the legal advisor for state agencies,” Clarkson wrote.

“In fact, any contract by an executive branch department or the APFC for outside legal counsel, as you have suggested for APFC, must be approved and supervised by the Attorney General. The agencies to which you gave qualified financial statement opinions relied on a legal determination made by successive Attorneys General—Attomey General Lindemuth and myself. Your office was previously provided the Department of Law’s analysis as to how it reached its legal conclusion.

“There is no sound basis for you to issue qualified financial statement opinions for the state based solely on your personal legal interpretations. It is irresponsible for you, given the current fiscal conditions facing the state, to issue qualified audit opinions that are premised solely on questionable legal conclusions you solicited for the sole purpose of questioning the advice of two successive Attorneys General.

“It is paramount that the statutorily assigned role of the Attorney General be respected. Attorney General opinions should not be second-guessed by an auditor who lacks any legal training. It is an abuse of your position for you to misuse the legislative audit process, potentially creating fiscal difficulties for the state, in order to advance your personal opinions and objectives.The Legislative Auditor performs a valuable service when carrying out the auditor’s statutory responsibility, but it is the Attorney General who advises state agencies on the requirements of the law.
The Legislative Auditor works with the executive branch under AS 37.05.2l0 to complete the comprehensive annual financial report (“CAFR”). The Legislative Auditor’s role is to audit the State’s financial transactions “in accordance with generally accepted audit standards.” As stated in the CAFR, “The goal of the independent audit is to provide reasonable assurance that the financial statements of the State [in a particular fiscal year] is free of material misstatement.” To ensure there are no material misstatements, the auditor needs to understand the laws that apply to the financial transactions under audit and ensure there are no errors or fraud. Under Alaska’s legal framework, the role of providing that understanding of the law is assigned to the Attorney General. Nothing in state statutes or the scope of the audit grants the auditor authority to interpret the law—and in particular the Alaska Constitution—independently and contrary to the advice of the Attorney General.

The Attorney General is the officer under Alaska law who provides legal advice to state agencies about how to properly comply with the law.
Under AS 44.23.020(a), the Attorney General is “the legal advisor of the governor and other state officers.” The Attorney General also “administer[s] state legal services” and “draft[s] legal instruments for the State.”‘ The Alaska Supreme Court has broadly interpreted the Attorney General’s powers when it comes to the legal business of the State and the disposition of litigation? The Attorney General and his subordinate attorneys within the Department of Law perform the role of legal advisors to the State by complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct, which includes providing “competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
With few exceptions not applicable here, all executive branch agencies receive legal advice from the Attorney General and have no independent authority to ignore the advice of the Attorney General or to choose to follow the legal interpretations of the Legislative Auditor, an official who is outside the executive branch and not authorized to provide legal advice.

“The Attorney General advised state agencies including the APFC on the legal issues raised by the Legislative Auditor, and the Legislative Auditor is aware that the state agencies relied on that advice.

“The Department of Law determined that the Alaska Constitution requires an appropriation for any deposit into the permanent fund of royalties beyond 25 percent.

“Former Attorney General Lindemuth and myself both have concluded that a statute such as AS 37.13.010(a)(2) cannot compel the deposit of royalties beyond the constitutional minimum of 25 percent into the permanent fund without an appropriation. On November 9, 2018, the Department of Law provided your office a written analysis explaining the Department’s legal conclusion. Early last year I confirmed the opinion reached by General Lindemuth.

“Your April 22, 2020 letter to the APFC unreasonably continues to challenge the Department of Law’s conclusion. You assert that prior Attorneys General have reached a conclusion more in line with your own—in support of your assertion you cite a 1982 attorney general opinion. To put it succinctly, a lot has happened since 1982. In summary, as detailed in earlier communications with your office, after 1982 the Alaska Supreme Court clarified the matter and rejected your view. The Court has issued several decisions regarding the constitutionality of efforts to set aside state revenues through statutory provisions that attempt to dedicate revenues to a single purpose.”

The most recent decision that addressed the dedicated funds clause, Clarkson continued, was the court’s 2017 decision in Wielechowski v. State, Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

“This case holds that a statute cannot dedicate a portion of permanent fund earnings to a particular purpose and be expended outside of the appropriations process. In Wielechowski the Court specifically held that despite the existence of a statute establishing a formula for the calculation and payment of permanent fund dividends, money cannot be transferred from the Earnings Reserve Account to pay dividends except via the legislative appropriation process. At this time, Alaska Supreme Court decisions foreclose your contrary opinion about Permanent Fund deposits above the constitutionally mandated 25 percent,” he wrote.

Any suggestion that the APFC Board of Trustees’ fiduciary responsibility includes collecting royalties is baseless, Clarkson wrote.

“The Department of Law has informed state agencies and your office several times about the percentage of money constitutionally required to be deposited into the permanent fund. The Department has also advised the APFC and your office that the APFC’s sole responsibility under AS 37. 13.040 is to manage and invest the assets of the permanent fund in accordance with AS 37.13.010-37. 13.190. The APFC does not collect royalties—nor does it have any responsibility to collect more royalties than are appropriated to the fund. Instead, the APFC’s only responsibility is to invest state revenues initially received by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Revenue that are then transferred by appropriation to the APFC for investment and management.”

Clarkson went on to say that the legislative auditor should not issue further “qualified audit options on this legal issue in reference to any state agency, including the APF.”

“You may disagree with the conclusion reached by the Attorney General. You may believe that state revenues in the form of royalties beyond the constitutional minimum of 25 percent can be legally dedicated and deposited into the permanent fund without an appropriation under AS 37.l3.0l0(a)(2). But your opinion has no legal standing,” Clarkson wrote.
“Not only have you ignored and disagreed with the advice given by two successive Attorneys General, you apparently also decided that the other attorneys knowledgeable on these issues—Legislative Legal Services—would not provide you an answer you liked. Thus, you skipped their advice and contracted with outside legal counsel to obtain an opinion consistent with your personal views.”

Clarkson wrote, “your use of outside legal counsel in this circumstance emphasizes the pre- determined agenda you had in this matter. As discussed above, your personal view of what you believe the constitution or statutes mean—as a legally untrained auditor—is ultimately immaterial to your determinations as an auditor. And to seek out opinions that best fit your personal view is, at the very least, unreasonable and inappropriate.
Any effort to pressure the executive branch to acquiesce to your opinion by continuing to issue qualified audit opinions—with potentially resulting harm to the state—is improper and raises serious separation of powers issues.”

“You have no basis to issue a qualified opinion to state agencies that follow reasonable legal interpretations made by two successive Attorneys General. Your continued refusal to accept that legal determination reflects your fundamental misunderstanding of your limited role under Alaska law. It is not the prerogative of the Legislative Auditor to make a legal determination. Your continued approach in these respects not only oversteps your authority; it also does a serious disservice to the State of Alaska as it is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

“Your continued reliance on your own interpretation of the law is seriously damaging the State’s ability to navigate its way through the difficult fiscal problems that it faces at this time. Consequently, I respectfully but firmly insist that you terminate this practice immediately,” Clarkson wrote.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Smells like honesty ….

    • On Kristin Curtis behalf, ty Kristin.

  • Holy Schnike!! Now, THAT’S an Alaska size smack down! AG Clarkson brings out his XXXL can of whoop ass!

    I love when our Attorney General gets after the swamp.

  • “Your use of outside legal counsel.” Who paid for that?

  • By citing the Wielechowski decision as a decision supporting the Legislative appropriation requirement, the AG has reached too far, just as the AK Supreme Court did, for they allow any Governor to tax Alaskans’ dividends, and we all know that a Governor does not have the power to tax. The proper decision would have been to uphold the Law and require a change in the Law to change the annual appropriation. We are a country, and we would hope, a State of Laws. The AG and our Governor should be upholding the law, and not allowing Alaskans to be taxed without a law defining the amount. This is just basic jurisprudence. The annual Dividends are income that Alaskans should be able to rely on BY LAW. What’s happening right now is not the rule of Law… and taking People’s money without the rule of Law has but one definition… And I realize this has nothing to do with chastising the State’s auditor, but our AG brought up the Wielechowski decision, which he should be fighting to overturn in Federal Court…

    • Thank you for being a voice of reason. As you know, I feel that if a layman can’t interpret the law, the law has gone too far. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” no longer holds any merit. Apparently, the average person is too dumb to be able to read and understand the law as it’s written these days. If that is truly the case, then the law itself has become too convoluted and I have to ask how *anyone* can follow it.

      In addition, the process of auditing should not be this complex. If it is, I have to question how complex our budget is, and who made it that way, in addition to the auditor and the process in which that is done.

      Seems like a lot of arguments over what laws mean these days. It shouldn’t be that difficult to read and understand laws.

  • Dayyyyummmmm!!!!

  • Like it or not.
    That’s the facts Ma’am!

  • OUCH!!!

  • Yahoo and good for you! You go guy, Attorney General, because you need to leave a stamp on some of the idiots in the state government and the legislature that have helped conjure up this ill gotten Junk! Keep it up and defend our state against idiots internal and external!!

  • Another two-bit bureaucrat thinking they have unlimited power to act on their own. This auditor probably works under Giessel’s command structure.

  • Suzanne,
    If you did an Independent review of where the PF is invested these days (like in China) and posted the list of all these foreign companies, I bet many conservatives accross the state would be appalled.
    It is time to reinvest part of this savings into Alaska for the “beyond petroleum” economy we will need to survive post government lockdown.
    I was just reading how solar panels require high quality Quartz for their production which is something we can mine in AK.
    Many new opportunities exist, but those who control the purse strings must listen to the next generation.

    • Steve,
      Although I agree with you, I doubt many Democrats or environmentalists would be on board with mining in Alaska, even though those same people are the ones who who want to push more solar panels. Solar panels, like computers and cell phones, are made with mined minerals. You either allow mining in Alaska that would help for more solar panels, or you get neither. Few people see or care about the reality of enslaved workers in African mines as long as they get their latest Apple phone. Please help teach everyone, especially the environmentalists who want to close all mining, the realities of solar panels, wind turbines, computers, and cell phones.

  • Yeah, you lie about it and I will swear to it. That is what this attorney general is doing, with respect to the Alaska Supreme Court decision that legalized the theft of the PFD in order to further the bloated government that the legislature espouses. The legislature is too candy ass to change the law so they colluded with the court and governor to steal. That is exactly what it is, government theft from the individual, just like the corona virus shutdowns. Like the Borg in Start Trek, the mantra is “resistance is futile, it is all to expand the collective to achieve perfection”, the perfection being drones under the control of government.

  • Clarkson, after his unethical, unconstitutional, leftist “decision” on the ‘fair share’ ballot initiative (good enough for him, no hearing/trial), has no right to admonish anyone for “overstepping their authority”. Can’t get much worse than his own “authority overstep”. When he’s kind of the ‘top cop’, who do you complain to? Certainly not the “supremes”. He’s demonstrated that his “philosophy” regarding his job and, particularly, his job performance, matches the supremes’. Clarkson is creating an example of ‘what not to do’ when “representing” the State of Alaska and Citizens through his public office. He’s one of those “do as I say, not as I do” characters. Most leftists are like that.

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