Tell me if this isn’t ridiculous.  Thomas Daniel, an independent investigator for the Alaska State Personnel Board investigating a complaint that Governor Sarah Palin violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts via The Alaska Fund Trust.

Rachel D’Oro of the AP reports:

An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as the "official" legal defense fund.

The practical effect of the ruling on Palin will be more financial than anything else. The report recommends that Palin refuse to accept payment from the defense fund, and that the complaint be resolved without a formal hearing before the Alaska Personnel Board.

The fund aims to help Palin pay off debts stemming from multiple ethics complaints against her, most of which have been dismissed. Palin says she owes more than $500,000 in legal fees, and she cited the mounting toll of the ethics probes as one of the reasons she is leaving office.

So if she didn’t authorize it, it would have been ok?  I think the concern was people taking advantage of her name creating a “legal defense fund” and fleecing those who contribute to it.  I’m sure that Mr. Daniel would have been just ok with that.  That isn’t what I find really ridiculous.

In his report, attorney Thomas Daniel said his interpretation of the ethics act is consistent with common sense.

An ordinary citizen facing legal charges is not likely to be able to generate donations to a legal defense fund, he wrote. "In contrast, Governor Palin is able to generate donations because of the fact that she is a public official and a public figure. Were it not for the fact that she is governor and a national political figure, it is unlikely that many citizens would donate money to her legal defense fund."

So she can’t raise funds because she is a public figure to pay for legal fees that have been racked up because she is a public figure… huh?  If it weren’t for the fact that she is governor and a national political figure, she would not have had the stupid ethics complaints filed against her to begin with.  Now that’s common sense.

But it’s perfectly acceptable to bankrupt her I guess.  That’s ethical.

In addition: Though the AP is saying that they have a copy, Meg Stapleton, Governor Palin’s personal spokesperson said she can’t verify the validity of this claim:

There is no final report. The Investigator is still confidentially reviewing this matter. It appears suspect that in the final days of the Governor’s term, someone would again violate the law and announce a supposed conclusion before it is reached.

Update: I would have included this earlier, but had to run out the door.  Governor Palin tweeted:

Re inaccurate story floating re:ethics violation/Legal Defense Fund;matter is still pending;new info was just requested even;no final report.

Mel @ shared a little tidbit at the end of the report sent out by Thomas Daniel:

However, this decision is confidential pursuant to AS 39.52.340, unless confidentiality is waived by the governor.

Also a statement from Governor Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flien:

The resolution of the Trust Fund is not final. I have been working with the investigator regarding supplemental information. The matter is still pending. Whatever you have seen was released in violation of law. There has been no Board finding of an ethics violation and there is a detailed legal process to follow before there is a final resolution.

Additional Thoughts: Governor Palin did not solicit funds for this.  There wasn’t an email or letter sent out.  She didn’t make any mention of it using government time or materials.  The only thing that could possibly be claimed is a link to it on the SarahPAC website which, again, is not a government site.  Basically Daniel’s argument is that she can’t have a legal defense fund because she is Sarah Palin and is well known.

Also not only did somebody release this illegally, but the AP didn’t bother to share the final two paragraphs of this report:

I can recommend that corrective action be taken to resolve this complaint without the necessity of a formal hearing on the matter.  See AS 39.52.330.  My recommendation is that the governor should refuse to accept payment of her legal fees and costs from the Alaska Fund Trust and withdraw her authorization for the trust to be recognized as her “official” legal defense fund.  I also recommend that she seek reimbursement from the state for the cost of defending the ethics complaints that have been dismissed.

I also recommend that the legislature consider amending the Ethics Act to require the state to reimburse a public official for reasonable legal fees and costs incurred to defend against an Ethics Act complaint that is dismissed.

At least he recognizes that she shouldn’t have to incur the debt herself… not that the AP would mention that.

2nd Update: From Mel @ C4Pupdate to D’Oro’s story.  John Coale, a lawyer who helped set up this legal defense fund said:

John Coale, a Washington lawyer who helped set up the fund, called the probable cause finding "crazy," adding that if upheld, it would mean that no governor could ever defend themselves against frivolous ethics complaints.

"If this complaint is true, there’s no way to defend yourself" as governor, Coale said. "Anybody can keep filing ethics complaints and drive someone out of office even if you’re a nut."

Coale said that unlike other states, Alaska’s governor has no legal counsel’s office to defend the governor from allegations brought against the governor in her official capacity.

Coale said he recommended creation of the legal defense fund, a common practice in Washington. The Web site for the Palin fund cites similar accounts created for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and other prominent politicians.

Also, unlike other legal defense funds they limited the max donations to be $150 so it would be grassroots, and so Governor Palin wouldn’t be beholden to the one with big purse strings.

3rd Update: Additional statement from Thomas Van Flein, personal attorney for Governor Sarah Palin:

All options are open in terms of legal remedies. It is a clear violation of Alaska law that Mr. Daniel explicitly reviewed with Ms. Chatman prior to her illegal actions. We will be contacting the appropriate authorities for review and action.

4th Update: This smells like a rat… the whole thing from Rachel D’Oro who wrote the AP piece, to the “independent” investigator, Thomas Daniel, hired to look into the complaint.

5th Update: Governor Palin’s statement  on Facebook

I find the notion that I have taken any action pertaining to the legal defense trust fund misguided and factually in error. I am informed that this fund was created by experienced attorneys in DC and was modeled after other similar funds established for senators and others. 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, and I am informed the Trustee was withholding any action or payment pending final resolution with the Personnel Board. This is the hallmark of legal compliance and prudent conduct.

In short, I have not ‘acted’ relative to the defense fund and it is misleading to say I have. I have no doubt that the Trust will welcome guidance by the Board, as do we all, but it is my understanding that this matter was not resolved and the complainant’s violation of law has served to mislead the public and prejudice a fair review of this matter.

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