Palin Billed State for Nights Spent at Home

Sure wish I could bill my travel from home to my office to my employer like Sarah Palin did.


Taxpayers Also Funded Family’s Travel

By James V. Grimaldi and Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; A01

 

ANCHORAGE, Sept. 8 — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.

Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official “duty station” is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.

The governor’s daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.

Gubernatorial spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Monday that Palin’s expenses are not unusual and that, under state policy, the first family could have claimed per diem expenses for each child taken on official business but has not done so.

Before she became the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee, Palin was little known outside Alaska. Now, with the campaign emphasizing her executive experience, her record as mayor of Wasilla, as a state oil-and-gas commissioner and as governor is receiving intense scrutiny.

During her speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Palin cast herself as a crusader for fiscal rectitude as Alaska’s governor. She noted that she sold a state-owned plane used by the former governor. “While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for,” she said to loud applause.

Speaking from Palin’s Anchorage office, Leighow said Palin dealt with the plane and also trimmed other expenses, including forgoing a chef in the governor’s mansion because she preferred to cook for her family. The first family’s travel is an expected part of the job, she said.

“As a matter of protocol, the governor and the first family are expected to attend community events across the state,” she said. “It’s absolutely reasonable that the first family participates in community events.”

The state finance director, Kim Garnero, said Alaska law exempts the governor’s office from elaborate travel regulations. Said Leighow: “The governor is entitled to a per diem, and she claims it.”

The popular governor collected the per diem allowance from April 22, four days after the birth of her fifth child, until June 3, when she flew to Juneau for two days. Palin moved her family to the capital during the legislative session last year, but prefers to stay in Wasilla and drive 45 miles to Anchorage to a state office building where she conducts most of her business, aides have said.

Palin rarely sought reimbursement for meals while staying in Anchorage or Wasilla, the reports show.

She wrote some form of “Lodging — own residence” or “Lodging — Wasilla residence” more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.

Palin charged the state a per diem for working on Nov. 22, 2007 — Thanksgiving Day. The reason given, according to the expense report, was the Great Alaska Shootout, an annual NCAA college basketball tournament held in Anchorage.

In separate filings, the state was billed about $25,000 for Palin’s daughters’ expenses and $19,000 for her husband’s.

Flights topped the list for the most expensive items, and the daughter whose bill was the highest was Piper, 7, whose flights cost nearly $11,000, while Willow, 14, claimed about $6,000 and Bristol, 17, accounted for about $3,400.

One event was in New York City in October 2007, when Bristol accompanied the governor to Newsweek‘s third annual Women and Leadership Conference, toured the New York Stock Exchange and met local officials and business executives. The state paid for three nights in a $707-a-day hotel room. Garnero said the governor’s office has the authority to approve hotel stays above $300.

Asked Monday about the official policy on charging for children’s travel expenses, Garnero said: “We cover the expenses of anyone who’s conducting state business. I can’t imagine kids could be doing that.”

But Leighow said many of the hundreds of invitations Palin receives include requests for her to bring her family, placing the definition of “state business” with the party extending the invitation.

One such invitation came in October 2007, when Willow flew to Juneau to join the Palin family on a tour of the Hub Juneau Christian Teen Center, where Palin and her family worship when they are in Juneau. The state gave the center $25,000, according to a May 2008 memo.

Leighow noted that under state policy, all of the governor’s children are entitled to per diem expenses, even her infant son. “The first family declined the per diem [for] the children,” Leighow said. “The amount that they had declined was $4,461, as of August 5.”

The family also charged for flights around the state, including trips to Alaska events such as the start of the Iditarod dog-sled race and the Iron Dog snowmobile race, a contest that Todd Palin won.

Meanwhile, Todd Palin spent $725 to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, for “information gathering and planning meeting with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology,” according to an expense report. During the three-day trip, he charged the state $291 for his per diem. A notation said “costs paid by Dept. of Labor.” He also billed the state $1,371 for a flight to Washington to attend a National Governors Association meeting with his wife.

Gov. Palin has spent far less on her personal travel than her predecessor: $93,000 on airfare in 2007, compared with $463,000 spent the year before by her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. He traveled often in an executive jet that Palin called an extravagance during her campaign. She sold it after she was sworn into office.

“She flies coach and encourages her cabinet to fly coach as well,” said Garnero, whose job is equivalent to state controller. “Some do, some don’t.”

Leighow said that the governor’s staff has tallied the travel expenses charged by Murkowski’s wife: $35,675 in 2006, $43,659 in 2005, $13,607 in 2004 and $29,608 in 2003. Associates of Murkowski said the former governor was moose hunting and could not be reached to comment.

In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.

“It was quite the little scandal,” said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000. “I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam — you pay yourself to live at home,” he said.

Knowles, whose children were school-age at the start of his first term, said that his wife sometimes accompanied him to conferences overseas but that he could “count on one hand” the number of times his children accompanied him.

“And the policy was not to reimburse for family travel on commercial airlines, because there is no direct public benefit to schlepping kids around the state,” he said. The rules were articulated by Mike Nizich, then director of administrative services in the governor’s office, said Knowles and an aide to another former governor, Walter Hickel.

Nizich is now Palin’s chief of staff. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. The rules governing family travel on state-owned aircraft appear less clear. Knowles said he operated under the understanding that immediate family could accompany the governor without charge.

But during the Murkowski years, that practice was questioned, and the state attorney general’s office produced an opinion saying laws then in effect required reimbursement for spousal travel.

Research editor Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

The Truth about earmarks

 I received this forward from a friend.  I cannot vouch for its accuracy but even if the numbers are off a little, it contains a lot of important information we voters should have at our disposal.
FYI… I did this research myself.  Hope I got the math right. – Ben
Sarah Palin is trying to accuse Barack Obama of asking for too much money in earmark spending.
 
Let’s look at the facts.
 
1.  Obama is US Senator for a population of over 12,000,000 people.  It’s the 5th largest state in the US, by population.
2.  Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.  It’s one of the largest cities in Alaska.  Population?  9,000.
 
12,000,000 divided by 9,000 = 1,333.33 times larger population in Illinois than in Wasilla.
 
3.  Obama requested $1 billion over three years for the state of Illinois.  He didn’t receive most of this funding.
4.  Palin received $27 million over 8 years for Wasilla.  How?  She hired a lobbyist.
 
$1 billion divided by 3 years = $333,333,333 per year, or $27.78 per resident per year.  REQUESTED.  Not received.
$27 million divided by 8 years = $3,375,000 per year, or $375 per resident per year.  RECEIVED.  Not requested.  RECEIVED.  (And actually, Palin’s town of Wasilla had a population closer to 6,000 when she stared as mayor.)
 
That’s 11 times more funding RECEIVED by Palin than Obama even REQUESTED!!!  And meanwhile, Palin’s state (Alaska) is making BILLIONS (with a ‘b’) of dollars a year on oil.  Must be nice to have a country full of oil wells.  How many oil wells do you have in your neighborhood?
 
More importantly, let’s look at the details.  Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times received an exhaustive list of Obama funding requests since 2005, when he took office as US Senator of Illinois.
 
http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2008/03/sweet_scoop_obama_after_initia.html
 
These so-called ‘earmarks’ include:
 
  • investment in info technology to improve gov’t programs
  • investment in green tech such as fuel cell tech
  • biotech investment such as genetic research at leading facilities in Chicago
  • improving air and water quality and safety
  • arts and science education and training programs
  • providing hospital funding for growing communities
  • improving water and sewer systems in urban areas near Chicago
  • teacher training programs
  • drug abuse treatment and prevention programs
  • employment and training programs through Goodwill
  • reading and literacy programs
  • charter school funding
  • improved mental health treatment facilities
  • renovations of a children’s hospital
  • rural education and technology infrastructure
  • disease prevention and public health education
  • improved farming and ag tech to increase crop yields and food safety
  • after school programs for at-risk youth
  • assistance for rehabiliting criminals who are overcrowding our prisons
  • repairing and maintaining dams, levees, and other civil engineering projects
 
Gosh, Obama sounds like a really bad guy, huh?  (Look at the list for yourself!  It’s a good set of solid initiatives, with transparent grant requests and proven effectiveness.  You get a return on your investment for thse sorts of things.)
 
Read the Obama ‘earmark’ list.  Then ask yourself: Why are we spending billions in Iraq, when these worthy projects are not being funded in the United States?
 
Who’s really putting ‘Country First’???  BARACK OBAMA!!!
 
Ben
 
PS – feel free to send out and broadcast.

=

Palin Billed State for Nights Spent at Home


Taxpayers Also Funded Family’s Travel

By James V. Grimaldi and Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; A01

 

ANCHORAGE, Sept. 8 — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.

Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official “duty station” is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.

The governor’s daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.

Gubernatorial spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Monday that Palin’s expenses are not unusual and that, under state policy, the first family could have claimed per diem expenses for each child taken on official business but has not done so.

Before she became the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee, Palin was little known outside Alaska. Now, with the campaign emphasizing her executive experience, her record as mayor of Wasilla, as a state oil-and-gas commissioner and as governor is receiving intense scrutiny.

During her speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Palin cast herself as a crusader for fiscal rectitude as Alaska’s governor. She noted that she sold a state-owned plane used by the former governor. “While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for,” she said to loud applause.

Speaking from Palin’s Anchorage office, Leighow said Palin dealt with the plane and also trimmed other expenses, including forgoing a chef in the governor’s mansion because she preferred to cook for her family. The first family’s travel is an expected part of the job, she said.

“As a matter of protocol, the governor and the first family are expected to attend community events across the state,” she said. “It’s absolutely reasonable that the first family participates in community events.”

The state finance director, Kim Garnero, said Alaska law exempts the governor’s office from elaborate travel regulations. Said Leighow: “The governor is entitled to a per diem, and she claims it.”

The popular governor collected the per diem allowance from April 22, four days after the birth of her fifth child, until June 3, when she flew to Juneau for two days. Palin moved her family to the capital during the legislative session last year, but prefers to stay in Wasilla and drive 45 miles to Anchorage to a state office building where she conducts most of her business, aides have said.

Palin rarely sought reimbursement for meals while staying in Anchorage or Wasilla, the reports show.

She wrote some form of “Lodging — own residence” or “Lodging — Wasilla residence” more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.

Palin charged the state a per diem for working on Nov. 22, 2007 — Thanksgiving Day. The reason given, according to the expense report, was the Great Alaska Shootout, an annual NCAA college basketball tournament held in Anchorage.

In separate filings, the state was billed about $25,000 for Palin’s daughters’ expenses and $19,000 for her husband’s.

Flights topped the list for the most expensive items, and the daughter whose bill was the highest was Piper, 7, whose flights cost nearly $11,000, while Willow, 14, claimed about $6,000 and Bristol, 17, accounted for about $3,400.

One event was in New York City in October 2007, when Bristol accompanied the governor to Newsweek‘s third annual Women and Leadership Conference, toured the New York Stock Exchange and met local officials and business executives. The state paid for three nights in a $707-a-day hotel room. Garnero said the governor’s office has the authority to approve hotel stays above $300.

Asked Monday about the official policy on charging for children’s travel expenses, Garnero said: “We cover the expenses of anyone who’s conducting state business. I can’t imagine kids could be doing that.”

But Leighow said many of the hundreds of invitations Palin receives include requests for her to bring her family, placing the definition of “state business” with the party extending the invitation.

One such invitation came in October 2007, when Willow flew to Juneau to join the Palin family on a tour of the Hub Juneau Christian Teen Center, where Palin and her family worship when they are in Juneau. The state gave the center $25,000, according to a May 2008 memo.

Leighow noted that under state policy, all of the governor’s children are entitled to per diem expenses, even her infant son. “The first family declined the per diem [for] the children,” Leighow said. “The amount that they had declined was $4,461, as of August 5.”

The family also charged for flights around the state, including trips to Alaska events such as the start of the Iditarod dog-sled race and the Iron Dog snowmobile race, a contest that Todd Palin won.

Meanwhile, Todd Palin spent $725 to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, for “information gathering and planning meeting with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology,” according to an expense report. During the three-day trip, he charged the state $291 for his per diem. A notation said “costs paid by Dept. of Labor.” He also billed the state $1,371 for a flight to Washington to attend a National Governors Association meeting with his wife.

Gov. Palin has spent far less on her personal travel than her predecessor: $93,000 on airfare in 2007, compared with $463,000 spent the year before by her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. He traveled often in an executive jet that Palin called an extravagance during her campaign. She sold it after she was sworn into office.

“She flies coach and encourages her cabinet to fly coach as well,” said Garnero, whose job is equivalent to state controller. “Some do, some don’t.”

Leighow said that the governor’s staff has tallied the travel expenses charged by Murkowski’s wife: $35,675 in 2006, $43,659 in 2005, $13,607 in 2004 and $29,608 in 2003. Associates of Murkowski said the former governor was moose hunting and could not be reached to comment.

In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.

“It was quite the little scandal,” said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000. “I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam — you pay yourself to live at home,” he said.

Knowles, whose children were school-age at the start of his first term, said that his wife sometimes accompanied him to conferences overseas but that he could “count on one hand” the number of times his children accompanied him.

“And the policy was not to reimburse for family travel on commercial airlines, because there is no direct public benefit to schlepping kids around the state,” he said. The rules were articulated by Mike Nizich, then director of administrative services in the governor’s office, said Knowles and an aide to another former governor, Walter Hickel.

Nizich is now Palin’s chief of staff. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. The rules governing family travel on state-owned aircraft appear less clear. Knowles said he operated under the understanding that immediate family could accompany the governor without charge.

But during the Murkowski years, that practice was questioned, and the state attorney general’s office produced an opinion saying laws then in effect required reimbursement for spousal travel.

Research editor Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

Sarah Palin’s leadership style has admirers and critics

From the Los Angeles Times

CAMPAIGN ’08

Some who have worked with the Alaska governor say her bold approach is lacking in follow-through, and that she punishes those who dare say ‘no.’

By Tom Hamburger and Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

September 8, 2008

ANCHORAGE — Three years ago, when a Democratic state legislator tried to get bipartisan support for investigating charges of unethical conduct by a senior Republican official, only one member of the GOP answered the call: Sarah Palin.

Palin pursued the allegations — as well as ethics charges against another top GOP official — so vigorously that both had to leave office.

The public acclaim that followed helped propel her into the governor’s office a year later with promises of reform and a more open, accountable government that would stand up to entrenched interests, including the big oil companies.

Yet a strange thing happened on the ethics issue once Palin became governor: She appeared to lose interest in completing the task of legislating comprehensive reform, some who supported the cleanup say.

The ethics bill she offered was so incomplete that its supporters had to undertake a significant rewrite. Moreover, when it came to building support for the bill, politicians in both parties say the new governor was often unaccountably absent from the fray.

And the seeming paradox of the ethics reform fight — the combination of bold, even courageous readiness to take on a tough issue, coupled with a tendency to drift away from the nitty-gritty follow-through — appears to be a recurrent theme of her record. Some lawmakers were so perplexed by her absence from a recent debate over sending oil rebate checks to Alaskans, for example, that they sported buttons at the state Capitol reading “Where’s Sarah?”

A spokesman for the governor’s office rejects such criticism. Bill McAllister, Palin’s press secretary, said: “She has always been sufficiently informed and engaged. . . . In just two years in office, she accomplished more than most governors in their entire careers.”

Even her critics credit Palin with a major role in pushing a state known for its relaxed approach to political ethics into a long-overdue housecleaning. And Palin has pushed hard to make oil companies pay more for access to the state’s oil and gas reserves.

At the same time, she has fallen short of her proclaimed goals in other areas, especially concerning how she governs.

Her administration has not been marked by the transparency she promised: She invoked executive privilege in refusing to disclose information about one ethics case, and last week she moved to hobble a legislative inquiry into her role in the firing of a state public safety official.

Several legislators also say the governor’s office is not a place for open debate: Palin does not tolerate much dissent, they say, sometimes cutting off relations with those deemed unhelpful or critical.

And she shows only marginal interest in crafting policy proposals and getting them passed, these critics say.

“Her ethics proposal had to be beefed up substantially with very basic additions,” said state Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat who tried to get the governor’s attention on ethics and other issues.

It lacked such long-needed provisions as language making legislators subject to prosecution for bribery if they exchanged votes for campaign contributions. To Gara and to some others, including Republicans who have often supported the governor, their experience on the ethics bill has proven disconcertingly similar to their experience with Palin on other issues.

“When it comes to the real work of crafting policy, she’s often not there,” Gara said. He acknowledged her broad accomplishments, but added: “I don’t know if she’s disinterested in details or not comfortable with them, but the bottom line is: She is not truly a hands-on governor.”

During the recent debate over how much of the state’s annual oil royalties to rebate to the state’s citizens in the form of individual checks — a highly sensitive issue in Alaska — Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature said Palin took little part in the final stages of the discussion.

In interviews, more than a dozen Alaska politicians described Palin as a master at burnishing her image and building a popular base. She won statewide applause for selling the state jet, rejecting a big security entourage while driving herself, and firing the chef at the executive mansion.

No one questions her readiness to fight for cleaner government either. After she agreed in 2005 to help Democratic legislator Eric Croft get an independent investigation of state Atty. Gen. Gregg Renkes, she immediately incurred the wrath of the party establishment. The same thing had happened a year earlier, when she raised conflict-of-interest allegations against the state GOP chairman, Randy Ruedrich, who had sat with her on the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Palin was vindicated in both cases: Ruedrich resigned from the commission and paid a $12,000 ethics fine. The attorney general also resigned and received a reprimand.

A spokesman for Ruedrich and the state party said that the past was not a factor and that Ruedrich was backing the McCain-Palin ticket. Renkes could not be reached for comment.

Croft, who is running for mayor of Anchorage and backing the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket, said he was impressed with Palin’s willingness to join him in the case involving the attorney general.

“She got it right away” and never backed down, Croft said. “Her sense was that this was wrong and that she had to speak out.”

Many officials are less positive, however, about her record of working with the Legislature and running the state government.

Republican state Sen. Fred Dyson, a friend and fellow reformer who praises Palin for taking up the issue, acknowledged that she was not fully engaged in the details of the ethics bill and that some legislators had been rankled by her lack of engagement in other issues as well.

Still, he points out, her popularity in Alaska remains undiminished.

Other legislators say that the governor has been so focused on her own priorities that she has been unwilling to consider other significant matters — including the state’s poor ranking in providing health insurance to children. Alaska ranks near the bottom of the states in making children from lower-middle-income families eligible for a government insurance program.

She used the line-item veto this year to cut funding for $268 million in capital projects from spending bills, including money for a senior citizens center and batting cages for the Ketchikan Little League. At the same time, the Anchorage Daily News reported, she preserved $2 million for an academic conference highlighting arguments that global warming isn’t threatening the survival of polar bears.

A former associate director of the governor’s Washington office, Larry Persily, said that some of the governor’s problems resulted from the fact that she “underestimated exponentially how much more complex state government is than the city of Wasilla.”

Palin is smart but was “never deeply engaged,” he said.

Though she had good instincts with the public, her approach to legislators and fellow elected officials was often counterproductive, he said. For example, he said, when she made a four-day visit to Washington in February, she did not meet with any members of the congressional delegation.

Similarly, when she reversed her campaign decision and finally killed the “bridge to nowhere,” the much-ridiculed project to connect Ketchikan with the island airport that serves it, neither the mayor of the town nor the congressional delegation was notified in advance.

“When she makes a decision, she wants it executed immediately,” Persily said. “In politics, sometimes ‘immediately’ is not the most productive way to do it.”

But McAllister, the governor’s press secretary, praised her attention to detail. He noted that during her second year in office, she met with legislators in groups of three to go over budget concerns for each district. “That shows her willingness to engage even at the level of minutiae,” he said.

Republican Lyda Green, president of the Alaska Senate, who has clashed frequently with the governor, said: “It has been very difficult for her to accept ‘no,’ and after a ‘no’ was spoken, going forward after that amicably was very difficult. After that, you didn’t get in. No conversations. She would very much slam you in her next press conference.”

Green, who represents the Wasilla area, is retiring from the Legislature at the end of this year, citing the conflict she has had with Palin as one reason she’s stepping down.

McAllister dismisses Green’s criticism as “bitter personal resentment.”

Palin has also stirred controversy over her abrupt firing of prominent officials. State legislators were upset earlier this year, for instance, when she dismissed the state’s well-liked public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan.

The governor agreed to a legislative inquiry by an independent investigator who was going to probe whether Palin had abused her authority in seeking Monegan’s precipitous dismissal. The Palins were angry because Monegan failed to fire a state trooper in the midst of a fierce custody battle the trooper was having with the governor’s sister. For years, the governor and her family had complained that the trooper was abusive and dangerous.

Since being chosen as John McCain’s running mate, however, Palin has started a legal maneuver to prevent that inquiry from going forward.

State Rep. Andrea Doll of Juneau, a Democrat, says she thinks the governor is learning from her mistakes. “One thing she learned is that you are not a lone ranger — you can’t go marching off, ignoring the people at the legislative front lines,” she said. “To get something done, you need more than just the public applauding wildly.”

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

kim.murphy@latimes.com

Times staff writers Chuck Neubauer and Marjorie Miller and researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.