Ethics complaints follow Palin

A dismissed claim called Sarah Palin's wearing of an Arctic Cat logo at a snowmobile race a conflict of interest.
With Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s resignation this weekend, she will leave behind many of the problems and frustrations she has had running the state.

But she will have to continue to deal with one of her biggest complaints: the series of ethics accusations lodged against her that will follow her after she leaves office. Since her bombshell resignation announcement, several new ethics complaints have been filed with state authorities, including one saying that she should not be able to claim per diem funds when she stays at her Wasilla, Alaska, home instead of Anchorage or Juneau, where she has offices. The governor’s mansion is in Juneau. At issue is a contention that she was charging the state when she stayed in Wasilla and commuted to her offices. Just this week, a complaint was filed alleging Palin failed to submit completed and signed gift disclosure forms. Palin says she is the target of the “politics of personal destruction,” as she and some staff members face about 20 filings regarding allegations of ethics violations. “It doesn’t cost the critics anything to file frivolous lawsuits or ethics violation charges. It costs our state such a great deal — thousands of staff hours, millions of dollars in public resources that aren’t going to things that it should be going to,” Palin told CNN earlier this month. “We haven’t violated the ethics code.”

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A preliminary report by an independent investigator said a legal defense fund set up by Palin supporters may have violated state ethics laws because it was billed as the official fund. The report, a copy of which CNN obtained this week, recommended the outgoing governor refuse money from the fund and ask the state to pay legal fees for ethics complaints that were dismissed. “I find the notion that I have taken any action pertaining to the legal defense fund misguided and factually in error,” Palin said in a statement this week. “I have not ‘acted’ relative to the defense fund and it is misleading to say I have.” The pressure and financial cost of such ethics investigations are a major reason cited by the governor in her decision not to finish her term. She said her family is facing more than $500,000 in legal fees and has set up a legal defense fund to help defray the costs. Many of the complaints filed against Palin or her staff have been dismissed. But Palin last month reimbursed the state more than $8,000 for travel expenses for nine trips, accompanied by her children, after the state paid for them. Another inquiry led to some new ethics training for a staff member. In all, state officials say they have spent $1,963,840 to answer records requests from the ethics filings and to respond in other ways to them. Records show that since January 1, 2008, the state has spent $296,043 on such investigations. The inquiry that cost the most and drew the most attention was centered on whether Palin inappropriately fired the state’s director of public safety. This complaint had been filed weeks before Palin’s run for vice president. The public safety director said he was let go because of his refusal to fire a state trooper who was Palin’s former brother-in-law and was locked in a bitter divorce and custody battle with the governor’s sister. Palin and her supporters said he was let go because the director was insubordinate. An independent investigator found that she had a right to fire him, but in doing so had violated a state ethics law. The investigation also found that she had abused the powers of her office by pressuring employees to get the trooper fired. Although the governor and her supporters have criticized the investigations, Andree McLeod, who has filed six complaints against Palin, thinks they are appropriate. “I don’t really care what other people think. I am holding the governor accountable. Other people’s ignorance is not going to stymie me,” McLeod told CNN, surrounded by stacks of state documents she has collected from filing information requests and ethics complaints. “I am exercising my right to get these public records to discover what Sarah Palin is up to,” she said. McLeod, a registered Republican, has filed several complaints since Palin announced her decision to step down, including the one regarding gift disclosures. She has also filed two lawsuits, including one regarding whether it was appropriate for state business to be discussed using private e-mail addresses. When ethics complaints are filed against the governor or her staff, the state has to hire an independent counsel to investigate the claims to avoid a conflict of interest. Among other claims against Palin cite her wearing an Arctic Cat logo on a piece of clothing during a snowmobile race as a conflict of interest and another saying that an interview she did after the presidential election in her state office was inappropriate. Those were dismissed. James Muller, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, told CNN that, “Some of [the complaints against Palin] are clearly fanciful, farcical. “I think most of these ethical complaints are trivial. Almost all have been dismissed by the various levels of review that have taken them on,” Muller said. Any filings already in process before she leaves office will be concluded, and state law allows complaints to be filed even after her resignation.

Palin had signed a law making it easier to file such complaints. “She’d been pushing for that even before she was governor. To have it used in this way, to have it abused in the manner that it was, is shameful. It’s much like the boy who cried ‘wolf,’ ” Thomas Van Flein, Palin’s attorney, told CNN.