Alaska's tab for ethics complaints about Palin: $1.9 million
It's a tiny fraction of the state's operating budget, but Palin supporters insist the cost weighed heavily on the soon-to-be-ex-governor.
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Whatever their outcomes, citizen-led ethics charges raise valid concerns about public policy and official conduct, says Zane Henning of Wasilla, who has known Palin since he was 12 and is accusing her of impropriety. Three days after Palin announced her resignation, he filed a new complaint concerning the governor’s practice of collecting per-diem payments for days and nights at her Wasilla home.Skip to next paragraph
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"Why should she be able to stay and sleep in her own home and charge us $60 a day to do it?” says Mr. Henning, who claims Palin should reimburse the state $18,000. It should be formally established that future governors are not permitted to do the same thing, he says. “It’s those kinds of things that people pick up on when you present yourself as holier-than-thou,” he says.
Citizens also have a legitimate right to view public records, says activist McLeod, who has battled Palin over ethics charges and is engaged in litigation over state business Palin allegedly conducted on a private e-mail account.
The expense of supplying public records
If public-records requests are expensive, the Palin administration’s practices help make them so, says Gregg Erickson, a Juneau economist and former state revenue official who publishes a specialized newsletter on Alaska budget issues.
“They have taken the position that a lawyer has to look at every single record before its release. If a lawyer has to look at it and review it, and maybe write a legal opinion on it, well, that’s going to be expensive,” says Mr. Erickson. Court fights also add to the costs, he says.
Citizens and journalists who sought public records have been socked with huge bills. At one point, the Palin administration presented the Associated Press with a bill of $45 million for copies of official state e-mails sent to Palin’s husband, to the McCain campaign, and to federal agencies.
That practice predated Palin’s ascension to the national stage.
In December 2007, when University of Alaska marine scientist Rick Steiner sought reports detailing state biologists’ assessments about then-impending Endangered Species Act protections for polar bears, he received a $468,784 bill from the state. After a few months of haggling, Dr. Steiner turned to the Bush administration. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which had its own copies of state biologists’ reports, readily complied.
“They didn’t charge me a dime,” Steiner says. The reports showed that state biologists, contrary to Palin’s assertion, did not dispute a threatened listing for polar bears, Steiner says.
That and other episodes prove the Alaska Public Records Act should be reformed, says Steiner. Citizens cannot be expected to pay huge fees to view public documents, and secrecy exemptions should be narrowed, he says. Even if the state bears financial costs, he says, “that’s the cost of open government.” Given modern information technology, “it shouldn’t be that expensive at all.”
An act of sacrifice, say Palin backers
Before she was elected governor, Palin employed the Ethics Act herself, establishing a relationship as a government watchdog. She filed two ethics charges against top Murkowski administration officials, including Attorney General Gregg Renkes, who ultimately resigned in 2005. He was cleared of legal violations, a result that displeased Palin at the time.
"Us Alaskans out there who are not caught up on the technicalities of the Ethics Act, we're saying, 'What's right is right. What's wrong is wrong. It's a pretty simple issue," she said then.
To her fans, Palin’s resignation is confirmation that she puts principle first.
“I think time will reflect on her well. I think people will see the true sacrifice that this was. I think she’ll be remembered as a very selfless person,” Cole says.
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