Fact checking the fact check

AP review of Palin book raises questions in Alaska

Posted: Friday, November 20, 2009

A purported fact check of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" memoir by The Associated Press could have used some fact checking of its own on its Alaska claims.

The AP story was published in the Juneau Empire on Sunday and news outlets worldwide thereabout.

The Associated Press again challenged the state's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, under which the state is backing a natural gas pipeline plan being developed by TransCanada Corp.

"An AP investigation found her team crafted terms that favored only a few independent pipeline companies" and ultimately benefited TransCanada.

That AP investigation, prior to the election last fall, concluded that Alaska had made a flawed decision when it adopted Palin's proposed Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, under which TransCanada is developing a pipeline.

AGIA was passed nearly unanimously by the Legislature.

Democratic state legislators, all of whom publicly supported Barack Obama last fall, publicly defended Palin then.

AGIA, they said, requires the pipeline to include protections for the state that will ensure it is operated as if it was an independent pipeline whether it is owned by one of the major gas producers or by an independent company.

"The producers having complete control of the oil pipeline has cost the state of Alaska billions of dollars over the years, that's a fact," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, in defense of Palin just days before the November election. "We've had less exploration and less drilling on the North Slope because the smaller independents have been squeezed out and because they can't pay exorbitant tariffs."

Despite The Associated Press' claims, nothing in AGIA favors an independent pipeline over a producer-owned one, said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Since the AP's original story last fall, one of the producers, ExxonMobil Corp., has joined the TransCanada effort that AP said was slanted against the producers.

AP's chief spokesman, Paul Colford, declined to address questions about the fact check, answering questions about both misstatements of fact and internal contradictions by saying, "We stand behind our reporting."

Another of the facts AP said was in dispute was Palin's assertion that as governor, she was a frugal traveler. In Palin's book, she reported that she had "only" asked for reasonably-priced hotels and not "often" going for the "high-end, robe-and-slippers" hotels.

The news service contrasted that assertion with an example of Palin spending five days and four nights in a $707.29-per night New York City hotel while in town for a five-hour conference, a single example that logically fails to refute Palin's claim.

"We stand behind our reporting," Colford repeated.

Further, state travel records show that beyond the five-hour conference on that October 2007 trip, Palin also participated in meetings with Goldman Sachs, an important financial advisor to the state, an Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute event and press interviews.

The AP also highlighted the role of Marty Rutherford, head of Palin's gasline team, in a possible conflict of interest. AP said Palin had her own "revolving door" issue with Rutherford moving between state and private employment, something Palin had criticized former Gov. Frank Murkowski for a similar situation.

However, Rutherford in 2003 left state service to work for 10 months for a TransCanada subsidiary during the Murkowski administration, not Palin's. While legal at the time, Rutherford's departure that might not have been allowed under a Palin-era ethics reform aimed at preventing conflict of interest. Rutherford left the TransCanada subsidiary to return to the state under the Murkowski administration, and Palin later made her head of the gas pipeline team.

The AP also disputed Palin's claims that she "ran her campaign for governor on small donations, mostly from first-time givers."

The fact check said that more than half of the $1.3 million Palin collected in her campaign came from people or political action committees giving at least $500, an arbitrary ceiling for defining "small" donors.

Additionally, an Empire review of campaign finance disclosures showed that most of Palin's donors - in contrast to dollars - appear to be small contributors by any definition. Politicians of both parties typically talk up their small donors, but there is no official definition of "small donor."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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