ANCHORAGE - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may create a legal fund to pay off more than $500,000 in legal fees she has run up defending herself against ethics complaints.
Palin owes more that half a million dollars to an Anchorage law firm for fighting complaints that the governor called partisan, false and frivolous, starting with "the politically motivated Troopergate probe."
In a written response to questions from the Anchorage Daily News, Palin said the legal bills all stem from her actions as governor.
"I must defend against these baseless ethics accusations out of my own pocket as the use of public monies to do so could itself violate state law," Palin wrote.
Palin was thrust onto the national political scene when GOP presidential nominee John McCain picked her as his running mate.
The debt was revealed in Palin's annual financial disclosure filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
"On August 29, it seems the political landscape changed in Alaska. Now, it seems in order to do this job as Governor, with the political blood sport some are playing today, only the independently wealthy or those willing to spend their income on legal fees to defend their official actions in office ... can serve," Palin said in the written response to questions.
The debt is owed to Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness, according to her financial disclosure. Palin said she didn't have an exact figure yet but "the debt is over a half a million dollars."
Attorney Thomas Van Flein represented Palin on the Troopergate matter. The Alaska Legislature investigated whether Palin, her husband, Todd, and her aides had pressured Alaska's public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, to fire a state trooper involved in a contentious divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister, and whether Palin fired Monegan because he would not fire the trooper. Palin said Monegan was fired in July over budget disagreements.
In all, Palin said, there have been 10 ethics complaints. State ethics complaints are confidential unless a public accusation is filed or the accused person agrees in writing to make to make it public. Palin said six have been dismissed, one had "concluded," and three are pending.
Last month, with Van Flein as her lawyer, Palin settled an ethics complaint over her children's travel by agreeing to repay the state for an estimated 10 trips. She said Friday that debt is still under review by the state.
Activists who have brought complaints said they do not consider their efforts frivolous.
Zane Henning, a North Slope worker, filed a complaint in November after the election, accusing Palin of partisan "post-election damage control" for talking to reporters about the campaign in her state office.
Andree McLeod has filed four ethics complaints against Palin and top aides. She said she's doing what Palin expects. When Palin was sworn in as governor in December 2006, McLeod recalled, she said, "Alaskans, hold me accountable; and right backatcha. I'll expect a lot from you too."
"I'm unambiguously, steadfastly and doggedly holding Palin accountable," McLeod said in a statement.
Van Flein initially was hired by the state under a $95,000 contract to represent Palin in a legislative investigation of Troopergate.
But just after Van Flein was hired, Palin landed on the national GOP ticket. Van Flein said the investigation "became part of the national campaign strategy against the governor." He never billed the state.
Palin said she did not think it would be fair to "sacrifice public monies to defend against something that was so politically charged." Van Flein called the investigation a "political probe" and an "abuse of state money."
State Sen. Hollis French, the Anchorage Democrat who directed the investigation, wrote in an e-mail that the state's bipartisan Legislative Council approved the investigation 12-0, with eight Republicans voting for it. The panel agreed to spend up to $100,000, mainly for an independent counsel, but spent $75,000.
"The investigation came in 25% under budget, which is clear evidence that the investigator was restrained and judicious in the work that he performed," French wrote Friday.
The legislative investigation concluded Palin abused her power by not stopping Todd Palin from pressuring Monegan.
Palin did not cooperate with that investigation. With Van Flein's help, she filed an ethics complaint against herself and had the matter investigated by the state Personnel Board. That investigation concluded she did not know what her family or staff members were doing regarding the state trooper so she could not be held responsible.
Palin made $131,891 last year, counting her $125,000 salary and expense payments she collects when she's away from Juneau, according to the disclosure. Todd Palin made $86,150 as a commercial fisherman and a BP production operator.
"Obviously we cannot afford to personally pay these bills -- and really no future governor should feel the sense of financial vulnerability at the hands of those with a political vendetta bent on personal destruction," Palin wrote. "Some have suggested a legal fund to pay these bills. We'll have to pursue that."
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