Gov. Palin's publicity blitz shows no signs of slowing

New ethics complaint charges governor with improperly mixing her official state duties and broader national political ambitions

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

ANCHORAGE - She's a national political figure and one of the world's most famous people. She's also governor of Alaska.

Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press
Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press

As Sarah Palin settles back into her job as the state's chief executive, a new ethics complaint filed Tuesday says she's already improperly mixing her official duties and broader political ambitions.

The charge: That Palin broke state ethics rules by holding national television interviews about her run for vice president from the governor's office.

The complaint comes as Palin's personal life, her prospects as a future presidential candidate and everything she says and does continues to draw headlines.

Zane Henning, a North Slope worker from Wasilla, said he filed the complaint with the attorney general. He says Palin is promoting her future political career on state property, pointing in particular to the governor's Nov. 10 interview with Fox News Channel host Greta Van Susteren.

"The governor is using her official position and office in an attempt to repair her damaged political image on the national scene," Henning wrote.

The Palin camp, besieged by interview requests, said the governor was no longer a candidate at the time of interviews, but otherwise had little to say about the complaint.

"The consideration of complaints under the executive branch ethics act is a confidential process, by law," wrote Palin spokesman Bill McAllister. "The governor will respect that legal requirement for confidentiality, even if others do not."

McAllister was referring to a part of the state ethics law that says complaints are initially supposed to remain under wraps.

The spotlight on the governor is even brighter now than after Sen. John McCain first chose her as his running mate, McAllister said.

Barbara Walters wanted to make Palin one of her "10 most fascinating people." Requests from news media, production companies and agents ring non-stop. They want Palin to sit down for interviews. Or to write a book about her life. Or host a talk show.

"The William Morris Agency has called me several times," McAllister said of the talent agency that has handled the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eminem and Elvis.

The state executive branch ethics rules say officials can't use state resources to help or hurt a political candidate. Or a potential candidate. That means, for example, no fund-raising phone calls on the state dime and no making political fliers on government copiers.

The latest complaint about Palin may be breaking new ground. The rules don't spell out whether state officials can tell a national television audience about their past political campaigns from their government office.

McAllister said Palin has spent the past two days in policy meetings, and her team hasn't talked about how to handle all the attention.

"That will happen soon," he said.

Meantime, Henning argues that Palin already broke the same ethics law that she exposed Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich for violating when both served on the state oil and gas commission.

Ruedrich admitted in 2004 to conducting party business on the job - and leaking a confidential state document to a lobbyist - and was fined $12,000.

More recently, Palin joined Sen. Ted Stevens for a July press conference in Anchorage. At the time, Stevens was running for re-election, but had not yet been charged in federal court.

Reporters asked Palin if her appearance signaled a campaign endorsement for the 40-year senator.

"I'm on the clock and we're in a federal building, so we won't talk about campaigns or endorsements," she said at the time.

Henning is asking the state Personnel Board to investigate his claim. While the ethics law calls for confidentiality, that doesn't mean the attorney general can throw out a complaint because the person who filed it spoke out, said Assistant Attorney General Judy Bockmon.

At least two other Alaskans have publicized their own recent ethics complaints against Palin in the past four months.

Palin, who campaigned for governor on ethics and openness, waived confidentiality in an earlier Personnel Board investigation into the firing of her public safety commissioner.

Henning has been watching Palin for months. In May, he made a public records request for thousands of e-mails from Palin aides looking for evidence they were trying to oust Ruedrich as Republican party chairman.

McAllister said talk of Palin's team trying to push Ruedrich out was unfounded. Henning says he didn't get all the e-mails he asked for - many were determined by the administration to not be public records and not released or redacted - and calls the search inconclusive.

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