Politics

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Palin Over Daughters Travel Expenses

An Anchorage, Alaska resident has filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Sarah Palin with the state’s attorney general, alleging Palin misused her position by using taxpayer dollars to pay for her children to travel with her on state business.

Frank Gwartney, a retired lineman, sent a three-page complaint directly to Attorney General Talis Colberg on Oct. 24 “requesting that the state Personnel Board investigate Gov. Palin improper and illegal use of her official position for personal gain.”  

Ethics investigations in Alaska are conducted in secret so it’s unknown if and when the board will act on Gwartney’s request. Colberg’s office is required to turn the complaint over to Alaska Personnel Board for investigation, which his office said the attorney general intends to do.

Gwartney accused Palin, Sen. John McCain’s running mate, of “Misuse of Official Position” by “securing unwarranted benefits for her daughters.”

“The Governor’s children accompanied Palin on trips and to events that they were not invited to and to which their presence served no legitimate State or official business or purpose,” Gwartney’s complaint says. “In some instances, upon arriving to events that they were not invited to and to which their presence was not expected or required, roles for the Governor’s children were created.”

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Palin charged the state of Alaska for commercial flights for her children and ordered changes to previously filed expense report to suggest that they were on official business.

“On Aug. 6, three weeks before Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain chose Palin his running mate, and after Alaska reporters asked for the records, Palin ordered changes to previously filed expense reports for her daughters’ travel,” the AP reported. “In the amended reports, Palin added phrases such as “First Family attending” and “First Family invited” to explain the girls’ attendance.

“The governor said, ‘I want the purpose and the reason for this travel to be clear,” Linda Perez, state director of administrative services, told the AP.

Gwartney’s complaint alleges “the alteration of these documents constitutes an improper use of the Governor’s official position.”

“Additionally, given that the purpose of the alterations may have been to disguise violations of the Ethics Act, the circumstances leading to the alteration-including the identity of all persons involved with the alteration-should be fully investigated.”  

Palin charged the state $21,012 for 64 commercial flights and hotel accommodation for her three daughters after taking office in December 2006.

Among other trips, she allowed the three girls to join her at a snowmobile race, where her husband was racing, as well as a five-day trip to New York, while she was attending a conference.

Palin noted on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor’s schedule, a claim, which has since been found to have been exaggerated.

Some organizers of the events said the Palin children had either shown up uninvited, or had only come after a request by the governor.

Alaska law does not specifically allow for expenses for a governor’s children but allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

Tony Knowles, the Democratic former governor of Alaska who lost to Palin in 2006, said he never charged the state for his three children’s commercial flights or travel as there was no valid reason for them to go on state business.

Gwartney said in his complaint “based on the facts…publically reported by the Associated Press, Governor Palin violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.”

“Governor Palin intentionally secured unwarranted benefits for family members, improperly used state property to benefit her personal and financial interests, and illegally altered documents that were the subject of a Public Records request,” Gwartney’s complaint alleges.

Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain/Palin campaign, characterized Gwartney’s ethics complaint as a “political stunt.”

“This is a purely political stunt less than 6 days from the election that not only violates the law that requires Personnel Board complaints to be confidential, but raises serious questions about the motives of Mr. Gwartney, a stated Obama supporter. Governor Palin has always acted with the highest standards of ethics,” Griffin said.

Last week, the government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint against Palin, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and several other political operatives associated with the RNC, for spending $150,000 on clothing for Palin and her family, alleging violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

According to CREW, FECA specifically prohibits a candidate for federal office from converting campaign funds to personal use.

Palin is currently under scrutiny by the personnel board as a result of two other ethics complaints filed against her and her administration, one of which is believed to be a complaint filed by the Public Employees Safety Union alleging Palin and her aides illegally accessed her ex brother-in-law’s personnel files and improperly and illegally tried to get him fired from his job as a state trooper. Watchdog Andree McLeod filed the only other publicly known ethics complaint against Palin. McLeod alleges the governor secured a state job for one of her fundraisers.

Additionally, on Sept. 2, just a day before she accepted the GOP nomination, Palin took the unusual step of filing an ethics complaint against herself related to her firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Palin and her campaign advisers are betting that the personnel board, two of whose members were appointed by former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, will clear her of wrongdoing in the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

Monegan alleges he was fired because he refused to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, a state trooper who was involved in a messy divorce and child custody dispute with Palin’s sister.

Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said the probe sanctioned by the Alaska Legislative Council in July to investigate Monegan’s firing was a partisan witch-hunt led by Obama supporters, despite the fact that it was approved by a majority of Republican lawmakers. The state personnel board, Palin and her attorneys said is the appropriate governing body to conduct a fair and nonpartisan investigation into Palin for possible ethics violations.

The legislative inquiry on was completed on Oct. 10 with a finding that Palin had abused her authority and violated the state ethics law that bars officials from using their positions to further personal aims.

The ethics complaint Palin filed against herself on Sept. 2 led the state’s personnel board to hire an independent investigator to probe the circumstances behind Monegan’s firing. The investigator, Timothy Petumenos, a Democrat, has expanded his probe to include previously filed ethics complaints against the governor.

Last Friday, Petumenos deposed Palin for two hours at a St. Louis hotel. He is scheduled to meet with the state’s personnel board Monday.

Possible Lawsuits

In addition to the personnel board probe, and Gwartney’s ethics complaint, Palin also faces new legal difficulties as a result of the “Troopergate” report released on Oct. 10 by independent investigator Steve Branchflower.

Monegan, the former public safety commissioner, submitted a complaint to the personnel board seeking a hearing to “address reputational harm” caused by Palin.

In the complaint, which appears to set the stage for a lawsuit, Monegan’s attorney Jeffrey Feldman said Palin’s “inconsistent and changing explanations” for firing Monegan – including claims that he was fired for insubordination – have damaged his reputation.

“Mr. Monegan does not challenge the Governor’s right to discharge him as the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety,” the complaint said. “But the Governor is not entitled to make untrue and defamatory statements about her reasons for discharging a cabinet officer.

“Gov. Palin’s public statements accusing Mr. Monegan of serious misconduct were untrue and they have stigmatized his good name, severely damaged – and continue to damage – his reputation and impaired his ability to pursue future professional employment in law enforcement and related fields. This damage thus implicates his constitutionally protected liberty interests.”

For his part, Wooten, the state trooper, is prepared to sue Palin, her husband, and the state for spending the past three years trying to get him fired from his job, according to John Cyr, the executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, the union that represents state troopers.

Also, a top Alaska State Trooper official who works with Wooten said Wooten has told several close associates that he will soon file a multimillion lawsuit against Palin. The official requested anonymity because Wooten, who has declined interview requests, did not clear him to speak about the plans.

“Trooper Wooten intends to sue Gov. Palin, her husband, and some people in her administration for slander defamation of character, and civil rights violations,” the official said. “His attorneys are considering filing in state and federal court.”

The lawsuits could cause additional problems for Palin if Alaska’s taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for any settlements.

And in a separate development, a top Alaska Democratic lawmaker has called on Colberg to appoint an independent investigator to probe whether operatives in Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign broke Alaska’s criminal witness-tampering laws.

In a letter sent to Colberg two weeks ago, state Rep. Les Gara alleges that McCain’s campaign staffers influenced witnesses close to Palin to get them to withhold cooperation from a legislative inquiry into whether Palin abused her authority in pursuing a vendetta against her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.

“I am concerned that the state’s criminal witness-tampering laws have been broken by certain staff for Sen. McCain’s presidential campaign,” Gara wrote. Gara said the McCain staff arrived in Alaska after Palin was picked as McCain’s running mate on Aug. 29 and spent the next month and a half trying “to stall or stop” the investigation by getting several senior Palin aides and her husband Todd to balk at giving depositions.

Gara noted that Palin’s aides had agreed in July to be deposed about allegations that Palin improperly fired Monegan after he refused to fire Wooten. However, after Palin’s selection as the GOP vice presidential nominee, the aides reneged.

Colberg, a close Palin ally, responded to Gara and advised the Democratic lawmaker to bring his concerns before the state personnel board, and ask the panel to further expand its probe of Palin.

“While you do not accuse anyone in the Department of Law of criminal conduct, you are particularly critical of McCain Campaign staff attorney Ed O’Callaghan,” Colberg wrote. “You suggest that my department may have a conflict of interest in investigating or supervising the investigation of the matter directly. Since the scope of the pending investigation before the State of Alaska Personnel Board has greatly expanded, investigator Timothy Petumenos…may be willing to add the federal witness tampering criminal allegations to his inquiry.

“Expanding the scope of the personnel board investigation would accomplish your goal of assuring that the allegations are taken seriously, and it would eliminate the potential for any perceived investigative conflict between the Department of Law and another entity.”

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