Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Is this big news? I doubt it:

An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts.

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....

A while back, Nate Silver devised a test to assess the likely impact of a particular scandal on a pol's career, and, using that test, he concludes that this story won't hurt Palin much, because on three of his five test questions the answer is "no" or "probably not":

1. Can the scandal be reduced to a one-sentence soundbyte (but not easily refuted/denied with a one-sentence soundbyte)? ...

2. Does the scandal cut against a core element of the candidate's brand? ...

4. Can the scandal readily be employed by the opposition, without their looking hypocritical/petty/politically incorrect, risking retribution, or giving life to a damaging narrative? ...

Nate does think the story will "reify/reinforce/'prove' a core negative perception about the candidate" -- that's #3 -- and thinks it will get traction in the media -- that's #5. I agree about the former, but I'm not sure about the latter -- yes, this is Palin, and we're fascinated by her, but there's a lot of news out there right now, and this story is, well, murky.

How murky? Well, last night Rachel Maddow declared the story a big deal ... and then brought on Jill Burke, a reporter for NBC's Anchorage affiliate, who, without directly contradicting Maddow, poured cold water on Maddow's sense of the story's potential to damage Palin. (Video below.)

You see, Palin set up a legal defense fund that would be ethically OK in most states -- just not Alaska. The independent investigator says she violated the law -- but he also suggested that maybe the law should be changed. And she hasn't actually taken money from the fund yet -- which the investigator says would be an ethics violation unless she's a private citizen. Which, of course, she will be soon.

JILL BURKE: That's the discrepancy that this independent investigator highlighted. He pointed that out. He noted that the Alaska Fund Trust on its Web site likens itself to other federally set-up defense funds, but also states, in Alaska law, there's no framework by which to enact something like that, so he offers this remedy to kind of address the situation, which is to say, "Look, Palin, you know, reject the money from the fund, don't take it, dissolve the relationship to the fund, ask the state to reimburse you for those complaints which were dismissed, then maybe have the Alaska state legislature take a look at its ethics laws and rewrite them so officeholders aren't subject to having to pay for frivolous complaints out of their personal pockets."

When the guy who's supposed to be throwing the book at you actually tells you how to extricate yourself from legal jeopardy and criticizes the statute you've violated, you're not in big trouble.

So sorry, folks, this is not the big kahuna, enjoyable as that might have been.


UPDATE: I transcribed that excerpt from the Maddow show, but I see I could have just referred you to a more detailed version of the AP story quoted above:

The investigator, Thomas Daniel, sided with Palin in her frustration with having to defend herself against a barrage of ethics complaints. He suggested that Alaska lawmakers may need to create a law that reimburses public officials for legal expenses to defend complaints that end up being unfounded.

Hurt her? This is going to make her even more of a hero in her cult's eyes. PUMA blogger Riverdaughter sums up the moral of the story for Palinites:

People take advantage of Alaska law to make bogus, petty ethics complaints. Sarah Palin runs up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills defending herself from those complaints. Her supporters donate money to help pay those bills. Someone complains that that is unethical.

It’s Kafkaesque.

Hey, you folks up in Alaska? A word of advice? STOP FILING ETHICS COMPLAINTS AGAINST PALIN. They're nourishment to her. They inspire her and her crowd, who thrive on the feeling of persecution. If you have something serious, OK, fine. Otherwise, DROP IT. It's counterproductive.

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