The accusations made news, but with another dismissal of an ethics charge last week against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential nominee has quietly been cleared of every ethics complaint filed since the torrent of allegations began in 2008.
Mrs. Palin, who became a target of such complaints after being named Sen. John McCain’s running mate, is 14-for-14 in fighting off the complaints. She’s been cleared of 13 charges by the independent State Personnel Board and of another complaint by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
After the latest complaint in Alaska was dismissed last week, Mrs. Palin’s team said that having to fend off the pile of accusations was wasting state money.
“This complaint cost the governor personally, and the state of Alaska, thousands of dollars to address,” said Thomas Van Flein, the governor’s attorney. “It is regrettable that the ethics process has been diverted for partisan purposes by some, but it is also commendable that the board remains focused on the law.”
The floodgates opened after Mrs. Palin was tapped by Mr. McCain of Arizona and she was accused of abusing power by firing state Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.
Four complaints related to this matter were filed to the personnel board. One of them was filed by the governor as a means of self-disclosure. In the end, no violation was found.
Even after the election was over, the stream of complaints continued.
Alaska residents challenged Mrs. Palin’s trips out of state to attend a campaign event for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, and to speak at a pro-life breakfast in Indiana, as well as for conducting television interviews in her state office.
The latest complaint to be decided was filed by Anchorage resident Linda Kellen Biegel, who took issue with Mrs. Palin for wearing to a public function a jacket made by a company that sponsored the governor’s husband, Todd, a snow machine racer. Ms. Biegel asked the personnel board to determine whether Mrs. Palin was abusing her position to serve her personal and financial interests.
Mrs. Palin called the complaint “asinine political grandstanding,” and the board’s independent investigator said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
“My investigation has uncovered no evidence that the governor or her husband received anything of value in exchange for the governor wearing the Team Arctic jacket when she acted as the official starter of the 2009 Iron Dog,” said Thomas Daniel, the investigator. “I also note that most jackets worn by Alaskans have a company name or logo on them.”
(Corrected paragraph:) The personnel board is a three-member panel of non-state workers who are appointed by the governor. Mrs. Palin’s predecessor appointed each of the three current members, Chairwoman Debra English, Laura
Plenert and Alfred Tamagni Sr., although Mrs. Palin reappointed Ms. English for another term in January 2008.
Rules dictate that no more than two of the members can belong to the same political party. Ms. English is a registered Republican; Ms. Plenert and Mr. Tamagni have no declared party affiliation.
The personnel board normally would be expected to meet only two or three times a year, but their workload has increased because of the number of complaints filed.
Mrs. Palin said defending herself against the complaints has cost more than $500,000, and she set up a legal defense fund to cover the costs.
Eagle River resident Kim Chatman challenged that move. “Governor Palin is perched to improperly receive an enormous amount of money for herself and her family and position a pool of pre-paid defense lawyers organized to deflect consequences of wrongdoings,” Ms. Chatman said in the filing.
That complaint is still pending, though it’s unclear whether other complaints are. The personnel board isn’t supposed to talk about complaints until the matter has been resolved.
In the wake of the complaints, the personnel board sought to make the public aware of the cost of investigating the complaints. Mr. Tamagni estimated that the board has spent “close to a third of a million dollars.”
One complaint did have some effect.
Like previous Alaska governors, Mrs. Palin took her children on plane trips to events to which her children were not specifically invited. Though the personnel board did not find any violation of ethics rules, the governor volunteered to reimburse those expenses to the state. The bill totaled $20,012.
Ms. Biegel, who blogs about politics from a Democratic perspective under the name Celtic Diva and was selected by the Democratic National Committee to represent Alaska bloggers at the 2008 convention, said the state offers no other options to challenge the actions of elected officials.
“It’s the only way we can ask the question basically,” Ms. Biegel said.
Ms. Biegel publicized her complaint on her blog with a press release, although parties involved in the filings are not supposed to discuss them with the public.
“I wanted to have a record so people would know there was one out there and it couldn’t just disappear,” she said.
Kay Brown, communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party, said Ms. Biegel had no formal connection to the party and Alaska Democrats did not have a role in any of the complaints filed against the governor.
She did, however, think there was reason for the complaints and raised the issue of the governor’s forthcoming autobiography and travel to out-of-state political events.
“How is this benefiting the people of Alaska in her duties as governor? It seems like there is a disconnect there,” Ms. Brown said. “Since Palin has put herself in the national spotlight more questions have been raised about her use of office for personal advancement that weren’t there before.”
In the federal complaint, the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the FEC to rule on whether Mrs. Palin violated campaign spending laws after the Republican Party bought clothes for her during the presidential campaign.
The FEC ruled in May that a prohibition on candidates using campaign money for personal expenses doesn’t apply to parties.