State spent nearly $300K investigating Palin ethics complaints

Most expensive investigation may have been driven by Palin herself

Posted: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Alaska has spent nearly $300,000 investigating ethics complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin, who calls the complaints "harassment" against her and expensive for the state to defend.

Palin has accused bloggers and political opponents of bringing "frivolous" ethics charges against her.

"How much will this blogger's asinine political grandstanding cost all of us in time and money?" Palin asked after the state Personnel Board dismissed another complaint last spring.

Palin herself may be responsible for much of those costs, as indicated by a list of investigation costs for 13 separate cases the state Personnel Board released Tuesday in response to public records requests.

The minimalist list identifies cases only by the year and a three-digit case number. State Personnel Director Nicki Neal refused to identify them more specifically, so connections between known investigations and the costs released could not be verified.

However, the timing, scope and other factors of the single largest expense appear to fit the case Palin filed against herself that cost $187,797 to investigate. That's almost two-thirds of the total $296,042 of all Personnel Board investigations in the last two years.

The self-reported complaint was a means to have a legislative investigator's findings in the "Troopergate" case reexamined by a Personnel Board investigator. She said publicly that her self-reported complaint was without merit.

The Legislative Council, chaired by then-Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, had budgeted $100,000 for its independent investigation of Troopergate. Legislative investigator Stephen Branchflower concluded Palin abused her authority when she waged a campaign against a state trooper with whom she had a family dispute, but found she had the legitimate power to fire former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan who failed to take action against the trooper.

Branchflower's report came out Oct. 10, 2008, in the heat of a bitter presidential campaign. Then, Palin filed her complaint against herself on Troopergate with the Personnel Board. Its report, done by the Personnel Board-hired counsel Tim Petumenos, cleared Palin and came out the evening before the election.

Palin waived confidentiality to make that report public.

Petumenos' report said it included two other allegations against Palin. It was the only investigation in the newly released information in which three complaints were folded into one lump sum.

Palin and her staff have harshly criticized the numerous complaints against her, and maintain that all have so far been "resolved with no finding of a violation of the executive ethics act."

The flurry of ethics complaints has prompted a political ally of Palin's in the state Legislature to say he'll introduce legislation barring those who bring complaints from speaking publicly about them.

Some cases have been resolved with repayment of possibly improper expenses and other measures.

The second largest investigation expense, a 2008 case costing $43,028, may be the other case the board made public. In that case, a member of Palin's Governor's Office staff helped a Palin campaign supporter get a state job in Fairbanks.

No improper action was found on Palin's part, but the independent counsel recommended the staff member get additional ethics training and the matter be referred the Department of Law for possible violations of the Alaska Personnel Act. No outcome of that referral was available.

The listing of complaints against Palin includes some made against her staff members, but which appear primarily to be attacks on Palin.

Several of the complaints were resolved with little expense. Many failed to state an allegation of law violation, and were dismissed without further investigation, Palin staff said at the time.

One case cost nothing at all to investigate, but most of the smaller cases cost several thousand dollars each to investigate.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250

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