Dermot Cole

Dermot Cole

The firing of Angela Rodell by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation is not the only issue that deserves legislative review.

So does the practice of keeping in-state investments secret, a topic that is already drawing the attention of a key legislator. 

The Permanent Fund refuses to reveal which companies operating in Alaska have received money from $200 million allocated so far, claiming the public has no right to know.

Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, isn’t buying it.

“When you use public money there’s strings attached to it, mainly on disclosure, where these funds are going and to who and for what purpose,” he said at a Dec. 15 meeting of the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee.

Stedman said the need for disclosure is among the topics he wants the committee to examine next month.

“If  the investors don’t want to use public funds they don’t have to. You use public funds, you get public disclosure,” he said.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, who mentioned several issues related to Rodell’s tenure at the fund and her firing that she wants answers about, said she would invite the corporation and the six appointed trustees to speak to the committee. She has formally asked the corporation to preserve all records about Rodell’s firing and to attempt to recover those that have been deleted. This is the right step to take.

Stedman said that LB&A needs to exercise its oversight role and something more than an invitation is called for.

“We are the oversight board, they will sit in front of us,” said Stedman.

At that point, Senate President Peter Micciche said to von Imhof, “After another meeting today, I suggest your words might be better than using Sen. Stedman’s words, but that’s just a recommendation.”

Micciche and some others on the committee appear to be unaware that state law requires the LB&A committee to provide oversight, a duty the committee has long ignored.

The law says the committee must conduct an annual “operational and performance evaluation of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation investments and investment programs.”

The evaluations are not happening.

Regarding public disclosure, Permanent Fund attorney Chris Poag claims that because of the “brilliance” of the Alaska Legislature, a sentence was inserted in state law in 1980 that allows the fund to keep secrets that meet with the approval of private equity investors.

He equates secrecy with protection. And people who get money from the fund want secrecy.

“Turning to the brilliance of the Alaska Legislature, it seems as if they foresaw this. The information that they made confidential is the exact information that our private equity partners expect us to maintain confidentiality on,” he said at a meeting in early December.

The sentence is this:  “Information in the possession of the corporation is a public record, except that information that discloses the particulars of the business or affairs of a private enterprise or investor is confidential and is not a public record.”

The Permanent Fund has paid $200 million to set up separate funds and certainly has the ability to require its investment managers to reveal where the money is going.

Simply disclosing the recipients of state funding in no way “discloses the particulars of the business or affairs of a private enterprise,” which Stedman and most legislators will immediately understand, though the Permanent Fund does not.

Stedman is right: “If  the investors don’t want to use public funds they don’t have to. You use public funds, you get public disclosure.”

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