I’m late on blogging about this, but wanted to give it some attention. A little over a week ago, an investigator hired by the Alaska State Personnel Board determined that Sarah Palin’s established legal defense fund, The Alaska Fund Trust, broke state ethics laws, and so goes the Catch 22. It was declared to be unethical for others to raise money on her behalf to defray costs of mounting a legal defense.
Tim Petumenos, an Anchorage attorney hired by the state Personnel Board to investigate, said Thursday the legal defense fund violated state law because it "constituted using public office to obtain private benefit." He said the fund, which was set up while Palin was still governor, inappropriately said it was the "official website" of Palin, and made reference to her work in public office. Petumenos upheld an ethics complaint that was filed 15 months ago against the trust.
This sounds asinine doesn’t it? It’s unethical to collect funds to offset legal fees accrued defending against ethical complaints due to her being in office. It is “unethical” for her to defend herself. So she was personally on the hook, which essentially means that it cost her money to serve as Governor. So the fund has 90 days to return the donations it received prior to her resignation as Governor which would be prior to July 27, 2009. The fund had raised $386,000 of over $500,000 in legal fees the Palins had amassed due to ethics complaints (all of which have been dismissed). No money of the fund was spent as it was frozen due to the ethics complaint filed in response to its creation.
Kristan Cole, the Fund trustee responded in a statement:
It is a shocking miscarriage of justice to have the investigator conclude that a sitting governor has to incur personal liability to defend herself against malicious and abusive attacks, and to conclude that a governor in that position can’t raise money from the public to help defray these costs. In fact the Alaska law specifically allowed Governor Palin to personally and directly solicit donations up to $150 each with no public reporting and she could have personally solicited donations in excess of $150 if she reported them and did not use her public office to do so. AS 39.52.110-130. It is simply legally unsound to suggest a trust could not do for Sarah Palin what the statute allowed Sarah Palin to do directly herself. A team of lawyers and over 4 law firms cleared the trust and it was reviewed by law professors prior to the launch of the trust in 2009. To our knowledge, no other similar trust fund has ever been ruled invalid under any state or federal law. Many federal office holders have legal defense funds, and federal law also prohibits an office holder from using one’s office for personal gain. The trust was modeled after many national political figures’ legal defense trusts. In fact language in John Kerry’s trust is identical to language in Sarah Palin’s trust yet none has found his trust to violate any law. Legal defense trust exist for other governors, judges, senators, congress persons, presidents and other political figures. The following is a small handful of political figures with legal defense trusts: John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Ted Stevens, Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. Yet no other legal defense fund has been ruled to violate any prohibition on public officials using their public office for personal gain by raising funds for their legal defense. This unique and unprecedented decision appears specially created for Sarah Palin.
It’s absolutely unbelievable that this decision was made. Here’s another problem, the attorney who intially investigated worked for Perkins Cole Law Firm which was the Democratic National Committee and the Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign counsel of record. Yep, no conflict of interest there. Unbelievable. Former Palin spokeswoman, Meg Stapleton said in a statement:
The Personnel Board initially appointed an “independent” investigator. That investigator, we later learned, had connections with, and was associated with President Obama. The Personnel Board had hired President Obama’s personal law firm as an “independent” investigator to review whether a fund created to raise money to eliminate a debt incurred as a result of Governor Palin’s opposition to President Obama was appropriate. We objected to both the illegal leak and the blatant political influence, and a new investigator was appointed.
The new investigator spent considerable time reviewing the old information and collecting new, but I think it proved to be too difficult to reverse an already-public decision. He concluded that the Trust fund violated Alaska law in two respects. His biggest heartburn was that we used the word “official” on the website. And he was distressed that we turned down an offer from a former White House Special Counsel to serve as trustee and instead chose an Alaskan whom Alaskans would recognize – Kristan Cole.
Kristan sat on several state boards as a volunteer public servant. The investigator concluded that because she sat on such boards, Governor Palin as governor was technically her boss, and therefore she should not be the trustee of the fund. That is his conclusion and we respect that. The law is not clear on this aspect, and not one member of the legal team saw this as an issue, but again, we respect the conclusion here and it is not worth the time or money to dispute that. But we do want to thank Kristan for taking on that otherwise thankless task. What is it they say about no good deed?
The other conclusion needs context. There was a point where it appeared that people around the country wanted to start legal defense funds for Governor Palin. The support and good will the people of this country have shown to the Palins is inspiring. But a concern was raised whether all these other potential funds would comply with various laws, including donation limits, limits against contributions from lobbyists or contributions from foreign nationals. So we used the word “official” in the website to distinguish the Alaska Fund Trust from ones we were not sure would be compliant. In our view, that was a solid and common sense reason to use the word “official,” but the investigator believes that it made it appear that the website was sponsored by the State of Alaska, and thus would be a use of Governor Palin’s ”official” office to raise money. We are not terribly persuaded that really would be the case or that any member of the public could be confused, but we respect the investigator’s evaluation of this point and it is not worth fighting about. Again, Governor Palin’s prime directive was simple – if this fund could be set up lawfully, she would support it. If not, it would not have her support.
So Governor Palin has reached a point where she decided to agree to resolve this matter with the investigator rather than spend time and money fighting an ethics complaint about a fund that was created to reimburse her for the money she has spent fighting bogus ethics complaints drawn up by insiders and outsiders violating and abusing Alaska law. Really, this is simple pragmatism and common sense. (read the whole statement).
The ethics violations have been dismissed. They’ve been nothing but political attacks using loopholes within the Alaska Ethics Act to hurt the Palin family personally. Meg Stapleton said that “no public official should ever have to bear the financial brunt of these attacks.” I agree. Like I said before the grand total of her legal fees amount to more than what she earned in her base salary in the 2 1/2 years she was Governor of Alaska. A new legal defense fund has been created called the Sarah Palin Legal Defense Fund. If you are able and feel so led, I encourage you to join me in contributing (and people are not limited to the initial $150 per person cap with the last fund). I’m one of those who will be receiving my donation back and will be more than happy to send it to the new legal defense fund.