ANCHORAGE - An investigator has dismissed a complaint alleging Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin violated ethics law when she acted as the official starter in a snowmobile race while wearing a jacket promoting the sponsor of her husband's team.
The complaint was filed by Linda Kellen Biegel, an Anchorage blogger who claimed Palin had a conflict of interest because the jacket she wore to the start of the 2,000-mile Tesoro Iron Dog snowmobile race in February was emblazoned with the name "Team Arctic."
Palin's husband, Todd, is sponsored by Arctic Cat in the Iron Dog, the world's longest snowmobile race. The snowmobile manufacturer also provides him with a discount on its machines, parts and clothing.
The governor's office said the dismissal by a representative of the Alaska Personnel Board is the 14th ethics complaint against Palin or her staff to be resolved with no finding that the Executive Branch Ethics Act was violated. Palin owes more than $500,000 in legal fees defending herself against what she has called frivolous charges brought on by critics.
Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said the Biegel complaint cost the governor and the state thousands of dollars to address. He didn't know exactly how much, but said it was less than $20,000.
"Our concern is that the public could lose confidence in the ethics process when the process is abused," he said Wednesday. "The ethics act is important to good Alaskan government, but it was never meant for partisan purposes."
Biegel said she was "extremely disappointed" but not really surprised to hear the complaint had been dismissed.
"My first reaction is that the governor's pretty much got this whole process sewn up," she said.
Biegel had alleged that Palin improperly used her position as governor and state resources for her personal financial interests by being "a walking billboard for Arctic Cat."
The personnel board's independent investigator, attorney Thomas Daniel, said there was no evidence Palin used her position for personal gain. He said there was no sign that Palin or her husband received anything of value in exchange for the governor wearing the jacket at the start and finish of the race.
The Arctic Cat sponsorship was valued at $7,500 in 2007, according to Palin's financial disclosure for that year. Daniel said the value of the 2008 sponsorship is not yet available, but added it's irrelevant because Palin had no agreement with Arctic Cat to wear the clothing.
"If the deal was, 'You've got to wear this jacket acting as governor as a condition of the discount or the sponsorship,' then yeah, it might have been a violation of the Ethics Act, but that's not the case here," he told The Associated Press.
Jackets worn by many Alaskans have company names or logos on them, Daniel noted in a report to the board Tuesday dismissing the complaint.
"So the fact that a person wears a jacket with a company logo on it is not evidence that the person is receiving a financial benefit as a result," he wrote. "To the contrary, it is the company that is receiving the benefit in the form of free advertising."
Biegel disagreed that Palin has no personal gain in wearing a jacket promoting the sponsor of her husband's race team.
"How can any reasonable person not believe that won't translate to some type of benefit for the Palins in the future?" she asked.
Biegel said she is now weighing her legal options on a possible follow-up to the matter.
"The Arctic Cat issue isn't over," she said.
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