Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sarah Palin Rejects Ethics Finding

The Bottom Line

Thomas M. Daniel, the independent investigator hired by the Alaska Personnel Board to produce a report on Sarah Palin's 18th ethics complaint (see list below), finds that:

In light of the evidence that the governor expressly authorized the creation of the trust and the fact the trust website quite openly uses the governor's position to solicit donations, there is probable cause to believe that Governor Palin used, or attempted to use, her official position for personal gain in violation of Alaska Statute 39.52.120(a). (Full report, PDF)

The Irony - a Double Whammy

Daniel concludes there is probable cause to believe that Palin violated the Executive Branch Ethics Act when she allowed and authorized the establishment of a legal defense fund (Alaska Fund Trust, AFT for short) to pay for her personal attorney costs associated with defending against ethics complaints. 

Keep in mind that Palin takes credit for reforming Alaska's ethics laws, one of her first achievements as governor.  CNN quotes Daniel as saying, "I can only apply the Ethics Act as currently written.  And as currently written, it does not allow a state official to use her position to solicit funds to pay for a private attorney or any other personal expense."

The Denial - or What the Meaning of 'Is' Is

CNN prints this response from Sarah Palin, via her spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton:
The fund itself was not created by me nor is it controlled by me. Neither I nor my lawyer has received a penny from this fund.

I find the notion that I have taken any action pertaining to the legal defense trust fund misguided and factually in error. I have not 'acted' relative to the defense fund, and it is misleading to say I have.
I can think of several actions the soon-to-be ex-governor took that related directly to the Alaska Fund Trust.  Let's take a look.

The Rebuttal - Oh Yes You Did

First, we find in Daniel's report:
[Ms. Kristan Cole, Trustee of the Alaska Fund Trust] stated...that the governor gave her approval to create the trust as the "official" legal defense fund for the governor and authorized the use of her photograph on the trust's website.
Next, remember all the occasions during which Sarah Palin, along with her staff and spokespersons, bemoaned the heavy financial burden on her family from battling "frivolous" ethics complaints? I certainly see her frequent "poor me" comments as actions taken to stimulate donations to the AFT.

Then there's SarahPAC.  This is a separate political action fund guided by FEC reporting regulations.  As soon as the Alaska Fund Trust was established, however, the following message appeared on the Home page of the SarahPAC Web site urging contributors to pay the AFT a visit:

In fact, for a time on the SarahPAC site, visitors were explicitly told to wait for the official fund that Sarah was setting up instead of donating to the unofficial fund established by businessman Clayton Paslay.

SarahPAC is authorized by Sarah Palin. On the PAC's site, in answer to the frequently asked question, "Who is behind SarahPAC?" we read:
Gov. Sarah Palin believes all Americans must work together for the future, regardless of their party affiliation. Gov. Palin is the honorary chair of SarahPac, and its supporters are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and those unaffiliated with any political party.
Daniel didn't mention the SarahPAC connection, but it lends further credence to the notion that Sarah most definitely took action of some kind by pointing prospective donors to the AFT.

The Questions

According to question #8 on the FAQ page for the Alaska Fund Trust, contributions and expenditures shall be disclosed by the Trustee on a quarterly basis in a categorized accounting.  The AFT was founded on April 22, 2009, three months ago.  Three months is also a quarter of a year.  When will this disclosure be published and who gets to see it?

I'm particularly interested in this question because of statements made by Meghan Stapleton and John Coale (husband of Greta Van Susteren and unofficial advisor to Sarah Palin) that seem to contradict Palin's assertions that neither she nor her lawyer has gotten a penny from the fund.

The Washington Post reported on July 13, 2009:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s political action committee raised nearly $733,000 in its first five months, according to a report filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

Stapleton said about $1.2 million has been raised between SarahPAC and a fund set up to help Palin pay more than $500,000 in legal debts stemming from multiple ethics complaints filed against her.
And this from Newsweek on July 18, 2009:
John Coale, a Washington lawyer who helped Palin set up a legal-defense fund and PAC, tells NEWSWEEK the fund is "well on its way" to paying off $500,000 in legal debt from the campaign and another $100,000 in bills incurred later, leaving questions about how big a part money woes played in her decision to resign.
According to Stapleton, the AFT has or had close to $500,000 in it, just about equal to Palin's supposed $500,000 debt due to ethics complaints. How much has been paid out so far, and to whom?

According to Coale, the AFT has plenty of money and is already paying off legal debt.  Except in this case, the $500,000 figure is as a result of the campaign, not ethics complaints from Alaskan "anklebiters."  So if the money was there why was Palin still whining about how the ethics complaints were bankrupting her?

What did the ethics complaints really cost Sarah Palin? Who released the Daniel report marked 'confidential' and why?  Did Sarah Palin resign so she could take the money and run without further oversight or annoying rules?  Why is the AFT still open for business and soliciting donations?  Why is there still a link on SarahPAC directing visitors to the fund?

Please find more posts on this topic at The Mudflats, Shannyn Moore, Progressive Alaska here and hereCeltic Diva's Blue Oasis, and Palingates here and here.
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