ANCHORAGE - An aide to Sarah Palin is disclosing as gifts more than $13,000 in airfare and lodging from the John McCain campaign, logged while helping the Alaska governor with state business during her bid as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Actually, they're gifts by default.
The state had planned to pick up the tab for Kris Perry's travel, lodging and expenses, said Linda Perez, state director of administrative services. The state was never billed by the McCain campaign, however, so the costs were calculated from market prices.
"We went online and found flight costs from Point A to Point B so we could come up with the total cost for Ethics Act purposes," Perez said.
Estimated costs tallied include $450 for an Oct. 9 flight from Milwaukee to Cincinnati; $346.50 for Oct. 14 flights from McLean, Va., to Scranton, Pa., to Newark, N.J.; $175 for Oct. 31 lodging in Tampa, Fla. and $300 for Election Night lodging in Phoenix.
Perry spent almost six weeks on the campaign trail helping facilitate communication between the governor - McCain's running mate - and her staff back home. Perry is said to be Palin's closest aide, and runs her Anchorage office.
"Kris Perry was there for the state's benefit, so why should the campaign pay for it? That was my reasoning," Perez said. "She was on duty status for us."
Between Sept. 27 and Nov. 5, estimated costs for airfare and lodging totaled $13,298.50, according to Perry's ethics disclosure reports obtained this week by The Associated Press. Journalists traveling with Palin's campaign routinely were charged more than $1,000 per day, depending on the length of trips and how many people aboard flights shared the cost.
Perry said in an e-mail Thursday that she declined per diem payments for that period and did not submit any personal expenses. She could not be reached later to explain why, but Perez said Perry would have been eligible for at least $2,100 in per diem had she accepted it.
On another disclosure form, Perry reported receiving air travel and lodging valued at $2,800 from the campaign of Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who enlisted Palin in late November to rally for him in a hotly contested runoff election he ultimately won.
Another $2,150 in transportation and lodging was received by Perry from the Republican Governors Association, where Palin made a postelection appearance in November.
State Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, was glad to hear the state would not be footing the bill for Perry's travel during the McCain-Palin campaign. He believes it was appropriate for Palin to have staff with her but not on the state's dime.
"The state staff had to travel around the country because of the campaign," he said. "And since the cost was caused by the campaign, I think it's appropriate that the campaign pay for it."
Perry was doing state work, so it would be more appropriate for the state to pay for her travel, said Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group. No money actually changed hands, but listing the estimated travel costs appears to be more of a bookkeeping question than an ethical lapse, according to Sloan.
"It's like it was shoehorned in there because it was easy," she said. "I don't see anything illegal here, but it's not very accurate. It's not a gift. This is a fake amount, even. It's not clear what the real cost is."
The overriding issue for former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, however, is that Palin continued to call the shots as governor during her unprecedented absence from the state to run for national office.
State officials have said the governor ably handled both jobs.
In the 2000 presidential campaign, then Texas-Gov. George W. Bush turned over his duties to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry when Bush was out of state. In identical circumstances in the 1992 presidential campaign, then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton turned over his duties to the lieutenant governor, Jim Guy Tucker, as called for in that state's constitution.
Coghill, an author of the state constitution, said he remains unwavering in his conviction that Palin should have done the same in her cross-country campaign as the state constitution implies but doesn't explicitly require.
"It's not a moot issue. It's a constitutional issue, even after the fact," he said. "Now you can have someone come back later and say, 'Well, Palin did it."'