- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Republican National Committee is paying off some of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s sizable legal fees dating back to the 2008 presidential campaign in exchange for her help raising money for the financially strapped RNC during the campaign season, The Washington Times has learned.

The Times obtained a copy of a check for $128,518.85 that was made out to Anchorage law firm Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness, which Mrs. Palin hired after a string of ethics charges were lodged against her when she was Alaska’s governor and the GOP’s nominee for vice president.

RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen, who co-signed the check with RNC Chief Administrative Officer Boyd Rutherford, said Mr. Rutherford told him the check was in exchange for Mrs. Palin’s help with RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele to raise money for midterm election campaigns.

“The initial payment was for Palin to do several different fundraising events and sign fundraising letters for the RNC,” Mr. Pullen said. He said the RNC has committed to sending the Anchorage law firm a second check of an equal amount, which would bring the total to $257,037.70.

Asked about Mrs. Palin’s role with the RNC this fall, spokesman Doug Heye declined to say whether her fundraising help was the purpose of the check. He said only that “the disbursement relates to legal fees incurred during the summer and fall of 2008, when Democrats engaged in a partisan witch hunt against Gov. Palin. Based on conversations in 2008, the RNC decided to step in to help.”

Other Republican officials have worried about the state of the national party’s finances under Mr. Steele, in a midterm election season in which Republicans see huge numbers of Democratic seats in play.

Mrs. Palin reportedly amassed more than $600,000 in legal bills. An aide to Mrs. Palin did not respond to an e-mail query seeking comment.

Mr. Steele’s immediate predecessor, Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, who was RNC chairman in 2008, said there was no authorization to pay Mrs. Palin’s legal bills while he was chairman. He said the process when he ran the party required approval for such payments from the RNC’s chief counsel, chief of staff and chief financial officer, with the party chairman and general counsel brought in if necessary.

“To the best of my knowledge, all of the governor’s necessary and proper legal bills that could be paid by the RNC or by the RNC and the campaign … were paid before I left office,” Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Duncan said it was still possible for the national party headquarters to make additional legal payments after that, but “I did not authorize or agree to these expenditures.”

Mr. Heye declined to provide copies of the original invoices showing the work for which the law firm billed Mrs. Palin, or comment on whether any of the legal work was performed before Mrs. Palin was elected governor or before she was selected for the national ticket by GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.

The check to the Anchorage law firm was issued on Sept. 1 of this year.

Mrs. Palin remains a prime draw on the lecture circuit - earning up to $100,000 per speech - and is a commentator on the Fox News Channel. It is reported that she has earned more than $12 million from book sales, television appearances and speeches since she stepped down as Alaska’s governor in July 2009.

“As far as I am concerned, if they want to pay her or someone else, there is nothing wrong with it,” said Mr. Pullen, who is also the elected chairman of the Arizona GOP.

“That was payment for services she was providing, including a couple speeches, a couple fundraising letters and a telephone call,” Mr. Pullen said. “There was not a contract so far as I know. It was verbal.”

Former RNC Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf said he could not recall a similar arrangement for those helping the party build its financial base during his tenure.

“Wow. I never paid anyone money to make speeches and sign direct-mail appeals,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said.

Another RNC veteran said such an arrangement was unusual.

“For the most part, people donate their time to help fellow Republicans win races,” added former RNC General Counsel David Norcross. “But I can’t say that paying for that time has never been done before.”

Despite polls showing a huge GOP voter-enthusiasm edge, the Democratic National Committee reported raising $10.9 million last month to the RNC’s $7.9 million, and has $13.4 million in the bank compared with $4.7 million for the RNC. The RNC does have a lower debt load, however: less than $1.2 million, compared with the DNC’s $8.4 million.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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