Staffers for Gov. Sarah Palin lashed out at critics Monday, defending the governor's collection of expense money from the state.
Palin Communications Director Bill McAllister returned to 2006 campaign mode, comparing Palin's expenses to those of former Gov. Frank Murkowski during the press conference held in Anchorage.
"She has been unfairly attacked for a comparatively minor amount of per diem," McAllister said.
He presented charts showing that Palin had spent less money on travel than did the former governor, but repeatedly said that what was not an attack on Murkowski.
Palin swept to an easy victory over then-Gov. Murkowski, in part because of the Murkowski administration's controversial purchase of a jet. Palin campaigned against the jet, and then sold it after she became governor.
McAllister also said Palin was giving up her state-provided vehicle. Failing to pay taxes on a vehicle recently derailed the nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle to President Barack Obama's cabinet, and resulted in U.S. Sen. Mark Begich having to pay back taxes from his time as Anchorage's mayor.
McAllister said that Palin was criticized for driving a state vehicle as well, and she will now be driving her own car.
"We're announcing the governor is relinquishing the state vehicle she's driving and will be driving her own car," he said.
That comes over objections by Palin's security detail.
"I didn't want to make the change, and I still don't," said Special Agent Bob Cockrell. "She's the boss and she made the decision."
Cockrell said criticism from the media led to the change.
"The press went after her with a vengeance," he said.
Cockrell said he'd prefer she was in a bigger, safer vehicle, such as the state-owned Suburban she has been driving. Palin's own car is a Jetta, McAllister said.
Palin was in a accident on the highway between Wasilla and Anchorage last year, and Cockrell said the large vehicle protected her.
"If she'd been in a small car, I think she'd have been in the hospital," he said.
McAllister said there also was criticism about travel expenses for Palin's husband, First Gentleman Todd Palin, saying that, too, was unfair.
Murkowski's wife frequently traveled with him on state business, McAllister said. While those trips were much more frequent and costly than those Todd Palin took, the media only focused on the Palin trips, he said.
Todd Palin spent $60,000 less than Nancy Murkowski, according to McAllister.
"Again, this is not a criticism of the former administration," he said.
The Washington Post revealed during Palin's campaign for vice president that she'd claimed $17,000 while governor as per diem for food while staying in her own house in Wasilla and working out of an Anchorage office. The state recently announced that money should have been considered income, and was providing Palin with amended W-2 statements.
What's commonly been called "per diem" is actually the state's $60 daily reimbursement for meals and incidentals when they work away from their duty station. For Palin that's Juneau, meaning she can legally collect the payments in Wasilla, said Kim Garnero, director of the Division of Finance.
McAllister's charts showed that Palin has spent thousands of dollars less than Murkowski, even with the cost of the jet subtracted, again noting he was "not criticizing the former administration, just pointing out she was frugal."
Palin even saved the state money, he said, by claiming less reimbursement than it would have cost to run the governor's mansion had she been in Juneau.
That, too, was a failing of the media, McAllister said.
"The media have missed the larger point that the governor actually saved the state money by not living year-round in the official residence in Juneau," he said.
While the critics the Palin staffers referred to were mostly unnamed, McAllister at one point singled out the Associated Press, which he said had claimed Palin was not working on some days on which she filed for expense money.
Palin, he said, works tirelessly, sometimes having e-mail conversations at 4 a.m.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the governor's staff was comparing "the $17,000 apple to the $100,000 orange."
"First I want to see how that $100,000 adds up and secondly, I guess I'm skeptical about whether she would be living in the mansion if she weren't able to collect per diem at home," Elton said.
"Yes, $17,000 is less than $100,000 but $17,000 is a lot higher than zero. And if she's going to work out of her home in Wasilla, the choice is between zero and $17,000, and not $17,000 and $100,000."
McAllister told reporters he did not know if Palin was still seeking the $60 payments when she is not in Juneau, or whether she would be eligible for mileage reimbursement while driving her own car.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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