ANCHORAGE - Since Sarah Palin abruptly resigned as governor, she has repeatedly cited the bombardment of ethics complaints against her while conceding the financial burden of defending herself had taken its toll.
Palin says her family has racked up more than $500,000 in legal fees and the state has poured about $2 million of taxpayer money into investigating the complaints. Just last month, her handlers made a plea for supporters around the nation to donate money to her legal defense fund.
But just how much of a financial burden has been inflicted on the Palins?
The governor's family is financially comfortable, but far from rich. She and her husband earned more than $200,000 last year, not enough to support a family of six and pay a mounting legal tab.
But the Palins have other assets and financial prospects: Their home is valued at $500,000 to $1 million, she has a book deal that could easily be in the millions, and Palin can make millions more with speaking tours and media opportunities.
She can also tap her immense popularity among the Republican base and raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay off legal bills with very little effort. An Internet campaign raised $130,000 from supporters in just two weeks.
"There were people who couldn't pay that much, who said they were in between jobs and really can't afford to do this, but they gave 10 bucks, 25 bucks, because they believe in her," said Rebecca Mansour, editor of Conservatives 4 Palin, an Internet group that led the recent webathon on behalf of the fund trust.
The ethics grievances are still piling up, with the latest filed this week against the former GOP vice presidential candidate. Sixteen ethics complaints have been filed. Three are still pending, the others have all been dismissed - although one was resolved when Palin agreed to reimburse the state more than $8,000 for the costs associated with nine trips taken with her children.
In her latest financial disclosure, the ethics complaints loom large as a money drain for Palin. In a section that asks her to list outstanding debts, Palin lists the name of her law firm and follows up with a handwritten explanation that offers a hint of her frustration:
"As governor of the state of Alaska I have accrued bills for legal representation concerning false, wasteful and frivilous (sic) allegations," she wrote in her March statement. "To defend my actions as Governor my family has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees."
As governor, Palin's annual salary is $125,000, plus she reported collecting another $6,891 last year in per diem payments while staying in her Wasilla home instead of the governor's mansion in Juneau. She also reported she and her family received at least $5,500 in checks larger than $250 sent by supporters during her run as John McCain's running mate.
At the time her report was submitted, Palin said the checks had not been cashed and that her family still had not opened envelopes that filled dozens of boxes.
"Those boxes contain more letters of support and may even contain more gifts," she wrote.
Her husband, Todd, earned more than $86,000 in 2008 between commercial fishing and a part-time job as an oil production operator for BP Alaska in Prudhoe Bay. He also earned $5,600 in snowmobile race winnings and an undisclosed discount on snowmobiles from racing sponsor Arctic Cat.
In addition, her six-member family collected $19,614 in annual state oil royalties and the energy relief. Last year's take amounted to a record $3,269 per person.
Palin also received a bundle of gifts last year, including Christmas dishes, angel statues, a gold ring and DVDs from random people, according to her financial disclosure. CNBC gave her clothes and shoes for an outdoor interview, and an Anchorage eye care center gave her eyeglass frames a month before the election, valued at $349.
Another boost for Palin is the Alaska Fund Trust, which was established by supporters in April to help Palin pay her legal bills.
Eagle River resident Kim Chatman filed an ethics complaint, which remains active, alleging Palin is misusing the governor's office for personal gain by securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the fund. As far as Chatman is concerned, Palin would rather resign than give up that pool of money should she be found culpable. Chatman doesn't believe Palin's explanation that she is stepping down to save a job shackled by a vicious political climate.
"I feel like she's using her national popularity to gain financially from her base and she's using emotional tactics, like 'woe is me, poor little me,"' Chatman said. "I don't buy her sacrificing."
Supporters obviously do. The recent donation drive brought in pledges totaling $130,000 despite the $150 limit, Mansour said. Managers of the fund aren't saying how much has been collected since it was created.
"I cannot fault somebody for saying this is not good for the state," Mansour said. "She could have kept going. She has this legal defense fund. It would get paid eventually ... However the cost to the state would have kept going. And I don't think that's something she could have lived with."
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