Palin Legal Fund Violates Ethics Laws (Maybe)

In the wake of Sarah Palin’s bizarre and unexpected resignation halfway through her term as Alaska governor, many speculated that a scandal was in the offing. If this is it, it’s pretty thin:

An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts, in the latest legal distraction for the former vice presidential candidate as she prepares to leave office this week.

The report obtained by The Associated Press says Palin is securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the Alaska Fund Trust, set up by supporters.

An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as the “official” legal defense fund.

The practical effect of the ruling on Palin will be more financial than anything else. The report recommends that Palin refuse to accept payment from the defense fund, and that the complaint be resolved without a formal hearing before the Alaska Personnel Board.

Lots of politicians have “legal defense funds,” which have always struck me as unseemly but apparently not illegal.  Apparently, Alaska law is more strict.

In his report, attorney Thomas Daniel said his interpretation of the ethics act is consistent with common sense.  An ordinary citizen facing legal charges is not likely to be able to generate donations to a legal defense fund, he wrote. “In contrast, Governor Palin is able to generate donations because of the fact that she is a public official and a public figure. Were it not for the fact that she is governor and a national political figure, it is unlikely that many citizens would donate money to her legal defense fund.”

No doubt and I agree with that as an ethical standard. Then again, ordinary citizens typically don’t have frivolous lawsuits filed against them as payback for political disputes.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Crust says:

    Thin stuff as you say.

    I very much doubt this is why she resigned. It wasn’t necessarily because of an incipient scandal, but if it was surely it would have to be bigger than this.

  2. Herb says:

    Hmmm…What happened to the old “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” rule?

    Surely, most of the ethics complaints are frivolous, but she’s had 20 of them so far. (I got that count from a Greta Van Sustern transcript I found via Google.) Even if 9 out of 10 of them are frivolous and without merit, what does that mean for the other 2?

  3. According to Herb, anytime twenty activists file ethics complaints, there must be guilt hiding in there somewhere. Right. And we wonder why it is so hard to find decent people running for office.

    You’re despicable Herb.

  4. TangoMan says:

    The investigating attorney, Thomas M Daniel:

    DANIEL, THOMAS M
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99501 PERKINS COIE/ATTORNEY 8/14/08 $1,000 Begich, Mark (D)
    DANIEL, THOMAS M MR
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99507 SELF/LAWYER 10/20/06 $1,000 DNC Services Corp (D)
    DANIEL, CAROL
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99507 SELF/LAWYER 5/24/06 $1,000 Democratic Party of Alaska (D)
    DANIEL, CAROL
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99501 SELF EMPLOYED/LAWYER 9/17/08 $500 Obama, Barack (D)
    DANIEL, CAROL
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99501 SELF EMPLOYED/LAWYER 9/30/08 $500 Obama, Barack (D)
    DANIEL, CAROL
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99501 SELF-EMPLOYED/LAWYER 9/30/08 $250 Begich, Mark (D)
    DANIEL, CAROL H
    ANCHORAGE,AK 99501 SELF/ATTORNEY 2/8/08 $250 Berkowitz, Ethan A (D)

    His law firm, Perkins-Coie is general counsel for the Obama for America campaign.

  5. TangoMan says:

    To get nit-picky with the standards, the lawyer writes:

    “In contrast, Governor Palin is able to generate donations because of the fact that she is a public official and a public figure.

    Is the Governor trading on her position as Governor or as a public figure. The two identities are in fact different from each other.

    There can be an appearance of impropriety if a Governor is accepting donations from Alaskans, but if her celebrity extends beyond the borders of Alaska and she accepts limited donations from non-Alaskans, the there really is no appearance of impropriety. Further, the limitations on donations are capped at $150, so it becomes difficult to argue that Governor Palin is trading over 3,000 favors to donors in return for Trust Fund donations of $450,000.

  6. Herb says:

    Thanks, Charles. I haven’t been called despicable since me and Daffy Duck got into a fight back in my Toon Town days.

    At any rate, it’s not just anti-Palin activists filing these ethics complaints. There is the matter of the one (Troopergate) that was filed by…Sarah Palin herself.

    And didn’t the official Troopergate report say she abused her power? Yep, it’s right there in Finding #1.

    You’re right, though…20 frivolous ethics complaints. Filed by activists. (I always thought abusing power was frivolous too.)

  7. TangoMan says:

    And didn’t the official Troopergate report say she abused her power? Yep, it’s right there in Finding #1.

    No, that’s not the official report, that’s the report from the Legislative committee, you know, the one whose Chair is now the Director of Alaska Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, a position he was appointed to by President Barack Obama.

    The actual official report found that:

    “There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters,” Timothy Petumenos, the Anchorage lawyer hired to conduct the probe, wrote in his final report.

    I find it hard to believe that people, like Herb, will accept as gospel the findings of Governor Palin’s political enemies, then neglect to mention the impartial report, investigated by a Democratic lawyer, and adjudicated by a bi-partisan commission, of which all of the members where appointed by the Governor’s predecessors.

  8. anjin-san says:

    There is no real mystery why Palin resigned. The economy went south, and her job started to get hard. It was one thing when she could simply raise oil taxes, hand out checks, and have everyone tell her how swell she is. The woman has a long track record of not finishing what she starts.

    Now a governor’s job has become extremely difficult, and her numbers are tanking. Why put up with that crap when she could be raking in millions off of her celebrity?

    Memo to the voters of Alaska from Palin. “See ya later, suckers”.

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Sarah Palin clearly stated why she felt she needed to step down as governor. There was nothing bizrare about what she said about the uncalled for attacks that did not allow her to tend to matters of the State. Those who lack values could find it strange when someone who has values lives by them. Selfish, self seeking individuals will never understand why someone who took a job to accomplish something would quit just because they felt it would be in the best interest of that job if they quit. Her Lt. Governor has the same or similar agenda without the constant attacks from a partisan left.

  10. TangoMan says:

    There is no real mystery why Palin resigned.

    You are correct, sir. She laid out the reasons in her speech. Why do you feel the need to stress the point that there is no mystery? When a speech makes a point of highlighting reasons, only loons would think that a mystery is present.

    The economy went south, and her job started to get hard.

    Her job was harder before, when she had to clean out corruption and had to deal with intransigence in her own party.

    It was one thing when she could simply raise oil taxes, hand out checks, and have everyone tell her how swell she is.

    Do you really think that erecting a strawman for an argument will convince anyone on this blog?

    The woman has a long track record of not finishing what she starts

    What initiative in her election platform did she not achieve? I’ve read her gubernatorial promises and she’s achieved success on all of the significant issues she campaigned on.

    Now a governor’s job has become extremely difficult, and her numbers are tanking.

    Her job hasn’t been difficult for she hardly gets to do her job, what with all the Democratic obstruction taking place, consuming 80% of her day. She never referenced her job presenting difficulties.

    As for her numbers, they’re not tanking. She was a shoo-in for reelection. There’s an incongruence to an argument that equates “tanking” approval ratings with a sure chance for reelection. Further, Governor Palin’s approval rating as Governor is 6 percentage points higher than President Obama’s approval rating. If she’s tanking, then he’s what, “The Worst Person in the World?”

  11. rodney dill says:

    Right On, TangoMan.

    I think the main reason for the attacks on Palin stem from the left fearing that she will become the ‘Obama’ of the left.

    Obama enjoyed immense popularity from many on the left that blindly followed him without questioning his lack of experience and substance. Palin showed the potential to be the same kind of rallying icon for the right, so the left sought out to crucify her.

  12. Herb says:

    No, that’s not the official report, that’s the report from the Legislative committee, you know, the one whose Chair is now the Director of Alaska Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, a position he was appointed to by President Barack Obama.

    So???

    Me: The sheer number of ethics complaints increases the probability that some are legit.

    You: The report I linked to wasn’t the “official” report –although it was an official report– and not only that, it’s a political hit job engineered by an Obama appointee. Written in October of 2008, before the election. Are you saying the appointment was a thank you? Or the report was a job interview? Do you have any evidence to back up your theory, or are you just lobbing frivolous ethics complaints at Obama/Branchflower in a juvenile game of tit-for-tat?

    I mean, in your eagerness to clear Sarah Palin of any unethical behavior, you’re prepared to accuse all kinds of people -including the president- of being unethical political assassins. It’s almost as if you’re saying, “Someone’s being unethical here, but it’s not my Sarah!” Does this irony escape you?

    Reaching, man…really, reaching.

  13. DavidL says:

    Catch Twenty-Two anybody?

    If it is unethical for a politician to use a legal defense fund, then we migbt as well ban all non-miilionaires from office. Simply file an endless string of ethic complaints until your victim either goes bankrupt or resigns office.

    The United States Senatre is already a private millionaires club and look what a fine mess Dirty Harry Reid asd associates are making. We were founded under the concept of citizen politicians. Sarah Palin is one of an ever increasing rare breed of ordinary citizens serving in public office.

    It this Alaskan precident holds, she will be the last. Does anybody really believe that the ilk of professional politiciasn like Jon Corzine and Ted Kennedy should be entrusted with our goverment?

  14. Michael says:

    An ordinary citizen facing legal charges is not likely to be able to generate donations to a legal defense fund

    So, name recognition causes an ethics concern now? Also, there are plenty of cases of ordinary citizens generating donations to a legal defense fund when people care about the defendant or case. Is it only the fact that more people care about Palin than an ordinary citizen that makes it unethical?

    What a stupid, base-less complaint. The same logic could be used against getting campaign donations.

  15. Drew says:

    Keep strokin’ it hard, Herb.

  16. […] James Joyner: In the wake of Sarah Palin’s bizarre and unexpected resignation halfway through her term as Alaska governor, many speculated that a scandal was in the offing. If this is it, it’s pretty thin […]

  17. TangoMan says:

    Me: The sheer number of ethics complaints increases the probability that some are legit.

    What kind of logic is this? Would you tell your young son that the more times he jumps of the roof the greater is his chance of actually flying after a jump?

  18. Herb says:

    What kind of logic is this?

    It’s not logic, Tangoman. It’s speculation.

    Sarah Palin may be completely innocent on most of those ethics complaints…but there may be some where she’s had some ethical lapses. See? Speculation.

    And indeed, my speculation appears to have some merit. There’s the matter of Troopergate, for one…

    As for logic…this is not logic either:

    “Activists from the opposition have been flooding Palin with bogus ethics complaints…so she’s ethically pure as white snow and clear skies.”

    Have some credulity, why don’t you? It’s always useful when dealing with Sarah Palin.

  19. TangoMan says:

    And indeed, my speculation appears to have some merit. There’s the matter of Troopergate, for one…

    Troopergate is a manufactured crisis. Remove Governor Palin from the situation and substitute in her place, some non-controversial politician. What we see is that the director of security interviews the newly elected first family and asks them about any existing security threats. The spouse of the Governor tells this director that an ex-brother in law, who is a cop, has threatened the lives of the Governor’s parents, has tazered his stepson, was caught driving drunk, was caught illegally discharging a firearm, and for comedy effect, was caught illegally killing a moose. The directer instructs the spouse to pursue his existing complaints.

    No one will penalize the Governor for getting a rogue cop off the force. Secondly, the Governor’s appointed subordinates serve at her will. Monegan was in an appointed position. Even the tainted report you linked noted that the Governor had the right to fire Monegan at will. They simply speculated that her reasons were personal, despite the evidence of policy differences she had with Monegan.

    There is no meat in the troopergate, or tasergate, investigation. What there is is innuendo. At the heart of the controversy is why a rogue cop who threatens people, tasers children, drives drunk and illegal discharges firearms should be kept on the police force. Keeping Wooten on doesn’t serve the public interest. There are plenty of honorable candidates who could fill his position.

  20. anjin-san says:

    You are correct, sir. She laid out the reasons in her speech

    Her “speech”? You must be joking. I have hear more coherent remarks from crack addicts…

  21. TangoMan says:

    Her “speech”? You must be joking. I have hear more coherent remarks from crack addicts…

    1.) I don’t believe you. I don’t think that you’ve ever listened to a crack addict give a speech.

    2.) If you’re trying to make some general point, by way of comparison, then I’m not following you here. I don’t think that it’s fair that you’re bringing the “Wizard of Uhs” into this, for President Obama is not a crack addict. His extemporaneous remarks are notably incoherent, but they’re far more coherent than the babbling of crack addicts.

    If we had to rank order folks on their ability to coherently speak extemporaneously, then the ranking would be:

    Governor Palin, as most coherent;
    President Obama, as marginally coherent; and
    Crack addicts as mostly incoherent.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    The funniest thing about all of this is that her political future is already severely compromised…none of this side-show will do much damage as the damage to her has already been done…

  23. TangoMan says:

    The funniest thing about all of this is that her political future is already severely compromised…none of this side-show will do much damage as the damage to her has already been done…

    You write with such certainty. Prove your claim.