- Associated Press - Monday, August 4, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Lawmakers can use state resources, like their legislative websites, to make known their positions on the upcoming oil tax referendum, according to a proposed recommendation set to be considered by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The draft recommendation, by commission staff member Thomas Lucas, points to a decision by the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics that found action to support or oppose an initiative was related to lawmakers’ duties.

The ethics committee, in a campaign-themed newsletter earlier this year, noted lawmakers often are asked to take a stand on public issues. According to the newsletter, activities permitted with the use of state resources include letters, mailings and emails concerning a lawmaker’s position on an initiative or referendum and having staff research issues related to a ballot measure.

House Speaker Mike Chenault and Senate President Charlie Huggins requested guidance from the public offices commission regarding lawmakers expressing their opinions on ballot measures and the upcoming oil tax referendum. Some lawmakers have been particularly outspoken about the referendum, which seeks to repeal the oil tax cut that passed a divided Legislature in 2013. Huggins and Chenault did not single out anyone in making the request.

Supporters of the repeal effort say the new tax structure gives too much to the oil companies. Opponents say the new tax structure is working, encouraging additional investment on the North Slope.

The referendum will appear on the Aug. 19 ballot.

Lucas’ draft advisory opinion considered activities such as use of state emails or distributing at state expense brochures to express a position on the referendum and providing links on their legislative websites to either the “vote yes” or “vote no” groups.

The draft found that activities that involved state resources should be disclosed on an independent expenditure report and that communications that express an opinion on a ballot measure should include a “paid for” tag. An example of such a tag, according to the draft, would be the name of the lawmaker using state funds for the communication, the source of the funds and the lawmaker’s legislative address.

Lucas recommended that if the commission approves the draft opinion, the disclosure and “paid for” provisions apply to future activities, since lawmakers “may have been lulled into believing that so long as they complied with legislative ethics requirements they would have met their legal obligations.”

The draft is subject to approval by the commission, which is scheduled to hear the issue Thursday. The commission can approve, reject or modify the draft opinion.

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