Many Americans are still confused about the sudden resignation of Gov. Sarah Palin, who will leave her post at a picnic in Fairbanks today. But one clear message has emerged, say friends and foes of the former vice presidential candidate: It is, at least partly, about the money.
No. 1: Legal bills – the personal costs
It’s about a personal legal bill that the governor says has exceeded $500,000 to fight a barrage of more than 20 ethics charges.
The charges range from the serious – using state money on personal travels – to others that have been quickly dismissed. One Anchorage blogger alleged that it was a conflict of interest for Governor Palin to act as the starter in a snowmobile race in which her husband was racing, because she wore the jacket of her husband’s team.
Alaska is unusual in that any citizen can file an ethics charge against the governor so long as it is submitted in writing, signed under oath, and includes details of the alleged violation.
To offset the personal cost of fighting the charges, Palin has set up the “Alaska Fund Trust” – a legal-defense fund administered by a longtime friend and soliciting contributions nationally. But Alaska’s independent counsel has said that the fund itself violates the state’s Ethics Act, which prohibits using an official government position for personal gain.
That assessment is not final or fair, say Palin supporters, who claim the governor has been harassed because of her national profile.
No. 2: Legal bills – the costs to Alaska
It’s about additional costs to the state that would be incurred if she stays in office, Palin and her supporters have claimed. The Palin camp has said the associated tasks cost the state nearly $2 million.
A hastily assembled spreadsheet provided by the governor’s office earlier this month, however, attributed most of those costs to salaries and benefits of state employees already on staff. It also included some questionable line items in which state attorneys’ time was valued at $1,000 or even $30,000 an hour.
No. 3: Cashing in?
It’s about the opportunity to cash in. Levi Johnston, who has fallen out with the Palins despite being the father of Palin’s grandson, has claimed the soon-to-be-former governor is anxious to do this.
The governor has a book deal that could be worth millions of dollars, and she could use her charisma and national fame to launch a lucrative new media career.
If Palin does use her political fame to reap financial riches, she would do so at the risk of her long-term legacy, says Rep. Jay Ramras, a Fairbanks Republican who often clashed with the governor.
What happens now?
Whatever is in her future, Palin is at peace with her decision to leave office prematurely, says a friend who is heading her legal-defense fund.
The mode of her departure, however, seems certain to mark an end to any political aspirations in her home state. “Sarah Palin has any number of things that she could do quite successfully in the future. But she’s never again going to be elected to public office,” predicts Ivan Moore, an Anchorage-based pollster and political consultant