David Eastman: Alaska’s Ethics Committee engages in election interference, violates ethics laws

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By REP. DAVID EASTMAN

Judges in Alaska are barred by law from donating to a political organization or a candidate for public office (Canon 5(A)(e)).

Public members of Alaska’s Legislative Ethics Committee are likewise barred by law from participating in, or even attending, fundraising events on behalf of political parties or legislative campaigns. They are also barred by law from making a donation in any political race involving the legislature or someone running against a legislator or a legislative employee (AS 24.60.134).

That’s what the law says. Public members of the Ethics Committee simply choose to ignore it.

Conner Thomas has been continuously serving on the Ethics Committee since he was first appointed in 1998. While sitting on the Ethics Committee he has publicly made political donations to the Alaska Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC)#StopRepublicans, various Democrat candidates running against Republican legislators, and many other partisan causes.

He has been allowed to do this and continue serving on the committee because public members of the Ethics Committee habitually ignore violations of the law when committed by their fellow members of the Ethics Committee. In some cases, members have served on the committee and worked together for more than twenty-five years. Also, the committee (or those hired by the committee) are the ones who recommend to the chief justice that members should be reappointed to additional terms on the committee.

Last year, the committee even went so far as to convince Chief Justice Maassen to intentionally delay his reappointment of current members of the committee until after their terms of office had already expired. By intentionally delaying their own reappointment, members of the Ethics Committee circumvent the state law that prevents them from continuing to remain on the committee after the legislature has refused to confirm their reappointment.

Given the power wielded by the committee, some legislators are reluctant to object to current members of the committee being given additional terms, especially considering the prospect that those same members will continue to sit on the committee even if the legislature is successful in blocking their confirmation.

In 2020, Chief Justice Bolger reappointed Joyce Anderson to the committee for another term. The 31st Legislature quietly declined to confirm her appointment. Instead of resigning, she chose to continue to sit on the committee just as if the legislature had voted to confirm her appointment. Because the chief justice had delayed submitting her reappointment until after her previous term had expired, she was able to continue sitting on the committee uninterrupted until her appointment could be confirmed by a future legislature.

Imagine what it would be like to be a Republican legislator and to know that, at any time, you could be hauled into a courtroom presided over by a judge who is fully committed to the success of the Democratic Party. Would you expect to get a fair shake?

This is what it is like for legislators from conservative districts who have the misfortune of being labeled “too conservative” by those serving on the Ethics Committee in Juneau. It is a glimpse into what legislators like Lora Reinbold, Christopher Kurka, Tammie Wilson and others experienced at the hands of the Ethics Committee during their time in the legislature. In the case of Rep. Kurka and Sen. Reinbold, that treatment continued even after they had left the legislature.

Sen. Reinbold decided not to run for reelection in 2022 and to instead continue to battle the Ethics Committee in court. Rep. Kurka decided instead of running for reelection to run for governor. On April 25th, a fraudulent ethics complaint was filed against Rep. Kurka during his campaign for governor. On April 26th, the day after the complaint was filed, the Chair of the Ethics Committee made a campaign donation to Bill Walker, one of Rep. Kurka’s opponents in the primary election.

Predictably, the Ethics Committee then proceeded to drag out the investigation against Rep. Kurka for more than 18 months, forcing him to incur thousands of dollars in legal expenses before finally concluding, after his campaign had already ended, that the complaint was baseless.

To avoid the obvious conflict of interest that arises when legislators are legally investigated and prosecuted at taxpayer expense by their opponent’s supporters, the Ethics Act bars individuals who wish to make these kind of donations from serving on the Ethics Committee.

State law goes further than simply saying that a member of the Ethics Committee is prohibited from making a particular campaign donation when they are serving as chairman of the committee, or that they are prohibited from making a particular campaign donation when they are presiding over an ethics case involving a particular legislator. The Ethics Act bars members of the committee from making a donation for or against any legislator under any circumstances. Those who wish to influence elections involving legislators aren’t barred from making campaign donations, they are barred from serving on the Ethics Committee.

During his time on the Ethics Committee, Conner Thomas has made over 1,200 donations to Democrat candidates, the Democratic Party, and Democrat-affiliated groups. The fact that the Ethics Act, which he is sworn to uphold, specifically prohibits him from making a number of these donations has not stopped him from doing so.

This is the person that current members of the Ethics Committee unanimously elected to be their chairman, not just once, but repeatedly.

This ought to tell you something about the political leanings of those currently sitting on this committee. It should also tell you something about what conservative legislators are up against in Juneau today. It’s not a fair fight when your political opposition breaks the law with impunity and then uses public funds to prosecute you for made-up crimes.

No legislator worth their salt should be voting to tolerate these kinds of on-going abuses.

Some of the many campaign donations made by Conner Thomas while serving on the committee include:

On April 4, 2022, while serving as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Bill Walker who was running against Rep. Kurka in the primary election. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On April 22,2022, while serving as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mary Peltola, who was running against Sen. Josh Revak for Alaska’s vacant congressional seat. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On April 26, 2022, while serving as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, he made a second campaign donation to Rep. Kurka’s opponent, Bill Walker. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On June 7, 2022, while serving as Chairman of the Ethics Committee, he made a political donation to the Alaska Democratic Party. Note: this donation was made while Sen. Josh Revak was running against Mary Peltola for Alaska’s vacant congressional seat.

On November 21, 2020, while serving as Vice Chair of the House Subcommittee of the Ethics Committee, he made a political donation to Stop Republicans. The Ethics Act permits staff contracted by the Ethics Committee to engage in certain political activities “if doing so will not lead to the appearance that the committee is subject to undue political influence and there is no appearance of impropriety” (AS 26.40.134). Should we expect committee staff to follow the law if Ethics Committee leadership openly refuses to be held to this same standard?

On January 14, 2021, while serving as Vice Chair of the House Subcommittee of the Ethics Committee, he made a second political donation to Stop Republicans.

On September 8, 2021, while serving as Chair of the House Subcommittee of the Ethics Committee, he made a third political donation to Stop Republicans.

On October 17, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC). The SDCC is a subdivision of the Alaska Democratic Party. Campaign donations made to the SDCC in 2018 were transferred to Rep. Scott Kawasaki’s legislative campaign for state senate. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On August 22, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On September 13, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On September 17, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Bill Walker who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On September 17, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On September 20, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On September 27, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 4, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 11, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 18, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 19, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 21, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 24, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On October 25, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On November 1, 2018, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Mark Begich who was running against Sen. Kevin Meyer. This donation violated the Ethics Act.

On May 16, 2016, while serving as House Subcommittee Vice Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a political donation to the Alaska Democratic Party.

On March 31, 2015, while serving as House Subcommittee Vice Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a political donation to the Alaska Democratic Party.

On June 30, 2014, while serving as Senate Subcommittee Chair of the Ethics Committee, he made a campaign donation to Byron Mallott who was then campaigning with Senate Minority Leader Hollis French as Democrat candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.

Records show that while serving on the Legislative Ethics Committee, Conner Thomas made over a thousand political donations to the Democratic Party and other partisan causes.

Rep. David Eastman represents Wasilla House District 27.

30 COMMENTS

  1. What then, is the process in the law, to remove these members who have violated the Ethics law? Will it take a lawsuit from a member of the public?

    • The process, first, is not to confirm their further appointment to additional terms. The house just voted yesterday to give some of these members up to four more years on the committee.

      One member, Skip Cook, was appointed in 1997 and has continuously served on the committee. Thanks to the vote taken yesterday, he now gets to serve on the committee for another 4 years.

      Another member, Joyce Anderson, has been on the committee (or worked for the committee) since 2001. Thanks to the vote taken yesterday, he now gets to serve on the committee for another 4 years.

      Any member of the committee may be removed by the legislature. It takes a 2/3 vote in the house and a 2/3 vote in the senate. Democrats will never go for it because they prefer to maintain control of this particular committee.

      • Keep up the good work, David. You are the only Representative who is faithful to the law and the Truth.

  2. Wow. David Eastman has discovered water is wet and Alaska gets cold.

    Of course our judiciary is corrupt. Our entire state government is corrupt. Possibly our elected federal representatives, but if so at least they are smoother about it if they are.

    While your list of activities is no doubt accurate, it lacks one teeny detail. Anything resembling a cogent plan to count it.

    As a veteran, you should be familiar with the concept of don’t bring problems, bring solutions.

  3. Why in the world did supposed “conservatives” vote to confirm all three appointees today?! Testimony from the citizens was unanimous – do NOT confirm these appointees but we all know how that works. Since the corrupt flying monkeys know that there wlll be no repercussions, they really don’t care about what you have to say – don’t bother wasting your breath or time in testimony.

  4. So what’s to be done? Storm Juneau with pitchforks? Convene a citizen’s grand jury? File a R.I.C.O. charge in federal court? Have Dunleavy address the House and point at people and have them escorted out of chambers by troopers?

  5. Who watches and polices the watchers? Ethics are in the eye of the beholder and violation thereof. Heaven help you if you (while on the Legislative Ethics Committee) donated to a group called STOP DEMOCRATS or Alaskan Republican Party.

  6. So, what you are trying to say is that the people who are tasked with judging the character of the house should not be of impeccable character themselves. Seems to be a tall order, all things considered. Where would we find such people? The ethics committee was a bad idea since its creation.

  7. Every case that the committee has had for the last twenty years should be thrown out.. Retribution is sometimes a needed outcome for such crimes.

  8. Rep Eastman- I watched the House Floor today and I must say, you’re on it. This entire state ia screwed up and there’s a whole lot of people in denial. They must cringe every time you stand up.

    Landmine’s article today clearly shows how deep the corruption is. Your voices are all we have at this point.

  9. David,
    Thanks for exposing these no good POS.
    The ADN, Newsminus, and Umpire won’t do it.
    So glad you and MRAK have the balls to get this out.

  10. As a conservative myself it pains me to say, most conservatives in Alaska are stupid and lazy. They will whine and cry, but actually raise their voice, oh hell no. Will they call or write their reps? Nope, too hard, I wouldn’t know what to say, they won’t listen, I don’t want to get on a list, and on and on and on. Stupid lazy cowards, RINO’s. Those of us who fight are too few, too old and nearly out of time. Enjoy what you allowed to happen Loser’s. Welcome to Rome 2.0 Loser’s.

  11. The ethics committee functions as a privy council!
    Thus transmuting Alaska into a monarchy without a monarchy? No wonder Alaska has lost the great republic Alaska swore an oath in 1959 to uphold. Do they want military examination which is not civil law to restore the US Constitution to Alaska? Invoking Gitmo trials and remedies? Really?

  12. If a person or group (i.e. public members of the Ethics Committee). succumbs to false beliefs and rejects accepting verifiable truth, they live in a delusional state.
    Really who cares — the sobs will just plod along, and we will let them get away with all the tricks EXCEPT for Crime Fighter REP. DAVID EASTMAN

    David Eastman lays out the TRUTH.

  13. I’m reminded of an old George Carlin rant:

    “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club. And by the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe. All day long beating you over the head in their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy.”

    Time to find another club. Cheers –

  14. If the allegations in this story are true, Conner Thomas should be thrown off the Ethics Committee immediately by the State Attorney General! No wonder Alaska state government ranks in the top five for corruption!

  15. Thanks for the insight, Rep. Eastman.
    .
    May we suggest referring Conner Thomas’ activities to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel as possible Hatch Act violations.
    (‘https://osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct-StateLocal.aspx#tabGroup51|tabGroup31)

  16. Alaska needs JUDICIAL REFORM. Alaskans need to elect the Attorney General. Alaska needs sheriffs.
    Alaskans need to support Senate and House Bills that support Review and Selection of Judges.

    Thank you Representative Eastman for this article.

  17. As I see the problem, As usual the democrats are somehow above the law. It is my beef with most the laws they pass. They mean everyone but them better obey. The Attorney General of the state needs to do something. Hell sue them do something laws with no teeth mean nothing.

  18. Please read Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 21 introduced by Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson 2/24/20 “Proposing amendments to the Constitution of State of Alaska relating to the office of attorney general.”

    As you know, there cannot be Alaska Initiative Petition based on Alaska Bench and Bar. Also, it in unrealistic to think Alaska will have a Constitutional Convention. In 2022, the issue did not even get 30% of Alaska vote.

    Please ask candidates for Alaska Legislature in your District this Summer 2024 if they support election of Alaska Attorney General. The time line will be a vote of 40 or more of 60 Alaska Legislators in 34th Alaska Legislature First Session to put this issue on Alaska Ballot in 2026. If 40 or more Alaska Legislators vote for a revised SJR 21 “”Proposing amendments to the Constitution of State of Alaska relating to the office of attorney general” the first election of candidates for Alaska Attorney General will be in 2026. The 40+ AK Legislatore can include that the first election of Alaska Attorney General who is a member Alaska Bar Assn. will be on our Alaska Ballot in 2026.
    DO NOT SUPPORT ANY CANDIDATE FOR ALASKA LEGISLATURE WHO WILL NOT AGREE TO VOTE FOR REVISED SJR 21.
    Please let me know if you support election of Alaska Attorney General and make sure the candidates for Alaska Legislature in your District will vote for this issue hopefully as their first act of the 34th Alaska Legislature First Session.

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