Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Hundred and Twelve Nights, and Nine Family Trips

The Washington Post sums up Governor Palin's latest ethics antics:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin used a government "per diem" allowance to charge the state for more than 300 nights spent at home and spent another $43,490 on travel for her children and husband...

Alaska Daily News (ADN) closes the curtain on the Travel-gate episode:
Gov. Sarah Palin has agreed to reimburse the state an estimated $6,800 to cover assorted costs related to nine trips taken by her children in 2007 and 2008, but she's not admitting that she did anything wrong.

As for Per-Diem-gate, ADN reports:
Gov. Sarah Palin must pay income taxes on thousands of dollars in expense money she received while living at her Wasilla home...

Here are the main characters in today's tale - we've seen them before.

Sarah Palin
The Client

An Anchorage resident and retired electrical power lineman, Frank Gwartney, submitted an ethics complaint against Governor Sarah Palin last year when he learned she had charged the state for her children to accompany her on  travel.  News media also widely reported on Sarah's penchant for living at home and charging the State for meals and incidentals while she did so.

Thomas Van Flein
The Lawyer that Sarah Hired

We've seen Van Flein before.  He's been one of Sarah's BFFs and he can spin with the best of them!  In addition to parsing words on Sarah's behalf in Travel-gate, he was paid by the State of Alaska to defend Sarah during the Troopergate episode.  It must be nice when you are a governor under fire to have the state pay for your lawyer.  Hmm, I wonder if the Gov had to report the fair value of his legal counsel as income?

Timothy Petumenos
The Lawyer the Personnel Board Hired

And there's Timothy Petumenos.  The three members of the Personnel Board, who serve at the pleasure of Alaska's Governor, hired Mr. Tim to investigate the Travel-gate complaint.  Mr. Tim is the same attorney who was hired by the same Board to produce the second Troopergate report -- the one that said Sarah Palin didn't really violate any ethics rules. Mr. Tim said Sarah denied having conversations about firing Trooper Wooten with Walt Monegan, contradicting testimony gathered by the first Troopergate investigation.  He never looked into who was telling the truth, though.  Oh, and Sarah's deposed testimony has never been made public.

So how does Sarah Palin explain why she charges the State for travel for her children?
I am blessed to have a large and loving family, and the discharge of my duties should not prevent me from spending time with them.
The convoluted thinking on display in this excuse should be obvious to anyone with a brain who's had a real job.  Bring your family if you want, but the State didn't hire Piper or Trig or Bristol or Willow, and especially not Todd, as co-Governors.  You want 'em with you?  You pay for 'em to be there.  That's so simple -- to all but Sarah, I guess.

How did Petumenos see it?  USA Today reports:
Timothy Petumenos interpreted the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act to require that state only pay if the first family serves an important state interest.

After reviewing "over 40" travel vouchers, Mr. Tim determined that 9 of them simply wouldn't pass the smell test.  (I'd be real curious to know how he justified the others... at last count there were 72 in all.)  He said the Governor agreed "not to contest certain charges."  In return, he "agreed not to file a formal accusation or take the case to a hearing."

How did Van Flein spin it? From ADN:
"The governor has been exonerated of all wrongdoing in this ethics act complaint. There is no finding of wrongdoing and there is no ethics violation," Van Flein said in a news conference.
There's a major mistake in that statement from Van Flein. There was no hearing so there can be no exoneration.  There was a settlement, and as a result of that settlement, Palin will pay the state back for some of her children's travel expenses.  The settlement simply states that Sarah does not admit to any wrongdoing.  Color me surprised... not!

And Mr. Tim, the attorney hired by the state Personnel Board, declined to pursue charges.  Again, this is hardly surprising.  These are Sarah's pocket-people.  I wonder if they realize how dismal their future will be.  They will forever be remembered for their willingness to whitewash Sarah's questionable ethics dilemmas.

Back to Per-Diem-gate, though.  Why did Sarah think charging the State while she lived at home instead of the Governor's mansion was okay?  Because the Governor's mansion is in Juneau and that's more than 50 miles from where she lives, and she would rather live at home and hold court in Anchorage (much closer to Wasilla).  Juneau is her official duty-station.  Not Anchorage.  Sarah's spokesperson, Ms. Leighow, said it was perfectly alright if Sarah charged for meals while living at home.  She even said Sarah could have charged per diem for her children, too, if she'd wanted.

As far as I'm concerned there is still a murky line about how appropriate this per diem is.  In the world I inhabit, you can charge per diem when you are on official travel away from home, not at home.  Per diem allowances are calculated based on the reasonable cost to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a restaurant at your travel destination.  The cost of making meals at home is considerably less.  At least, I can eat for way less than $60 a day if I'm at home.  I would probably be fired if I put in for per diem for the days that I chose to work at home.  Heck, even if my office was being renovated and I had the capacity to work at home and did so to benefit my employer, there's no way I could charge per diem!

Sarah Palin is reported to have said, "I'll do what I want until the courts tell me I can't."  This is the Governor that claimed to be a champion of ethics, honesty, and transparency.  The Christian Bible says something like, "By their fruits ye shall know them.  Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?"  (That's Matthew 7:20.  Sarah's been quoting Matthew lately.)

Hey Sarah, we can see your thorns and thistles from all 50 states!
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