Dominating the political headlines in Anchorage, Alaska on March 25th, 2009 is the announcement by Anchorage progressive blogger Linda Kellen Biegel that she has filed an ethics complaint against Governor Sarah Palin. Not surprisingly, Governor Palin wasted little time in firing off a volcanic response. Media stories published by the Anchorage Daily News and KTUU Channel 2.
Biegel, who edits the DivasBlueOasis website under the nickname Celtic Diva, has focused on an incident where Governor Palin wore specially designed snowmachine gear advertising her husband Todd's biggest Iron Dog sponsor, Arctic Cat Inc. In this particular post, Biegel bases her complaint on the presumption that Palin was acting in her official capacity as Governor by virtue of the fact that she was serving as the official starter of the Iron Dog Snow Machine Race. Biegel also maintains that Governor Palin not only was well aware that there would be extensive Alaska media coverage, but that the intent of Sports Illustrated to do a story on Todd Palin contributed to Palin's decision to wear the gear.
Specifically, Biegel claims that Governor Palin violated the following provisions of AS39.52.120 of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, Misuse of official position:
(A) A public officer may not use, or attempt to use, an official position for personal gain, and may not intentionally secure or grant unwarranted benefits or treatment for any person;
(3) use state time, property, equipment or other facilities to benefit personal or financial interests.
In short, Linda Biegel has chosen to presume malfeasance, and file the complaint on this basis. It should be noted that this is Biegel's first ethics complaint against Palin, so it would be misleading to compare her with self-appointed professional ethics inquisitor Andree McLeod, who has spammed the Governor with endless "ethics complaints" of her own as possible payback for the Governor's unwillingness to give McLeod a make-work job in her administration (McLeod has publicly denied this, but it's so transparent even Helen Keller could see through it).
Conservative talk show host Dan Fagan has jumped into the frenzy, taking the side of the Celtic Diva on The Alaska Standard. Fagan does flesh out the story with some useful additional perspective, pointing out that Todd Palin received thousands of dollars in sponsorship money from the company. In 2007, the governor’s APOC report shows Arctic Cat paid the Palins $7,500. Her 2008 report does not indicate how much money the company may have given to the family, instead merely showing that Arctic Cat provided a discount on snowmachines.
Credibility? While I believe Biegel retains a certain amount of credibility, I cannot say the same for Fagan. Fagan has been a relentless thorn in the side of the Palin Administration almost since Day One. Some of it was justified, particularly Troopergate and AGIA. But now, Dan Fagan reflexively bashes Palin almost as a matter of course as he struggles to avoid falling behind rival KBYR talk show host Eddie Burke in the ratings wars.
Meanwhile, in response, Governor Palin erupted, even more so than Mt. Redoubt earlier today. Here's the Guv's press release:
"Are Alaskans outraged, or at least tired of this yet - another frivolous ethics charge by a political blogger? This would be hilarious if it weren’t so expensive for the state to process these accusations and for me to defend against these bogus harassments. Yes, I wore Arctic Cat snow gear at an outdoor event, because it was cold outside, and by the way, today, I am wearing clothes bearing the names of Alaska artists, and a Glennallen Panthers basketball hoodie. I am a walking billboard for the team’s fundraiser! Should I expect to see an ethics charge for wearing these, or the Carhartts I wear to many public events? How much will this blogger's asinine political grandstanding cost all of us in time and money?"
Asinine??? Ouch!!! Catfight alert; now I know which graphic I'm appending to this post. Not even Mt. Redoubt made this much noise so far today. In a more measured response, Biegel said, "I'm pleased to see that our governor supports our local artists and sports teams but I believe she's missed the mark when it comes to what this ethics violation is all about". Biegel reiterated that Arctic Cat financially supports Todd Palin's snowmachining, which implicitly benefits the whole family.
But I question whether Governor Palin is responding in absolute terms to Biegel's specific complaint, or if she's more frustrated with the fact that this is just one more of many complaints. Perhaps she's viewing this one as "the straw that broke the camel's back". And she's got a point; her legal expenses incurred in defending against these complaints has now reached over $500,000, she has to pay for th defense out of her own pocket, and she's not exactly a rich CEO.
But is this ethics complaint the real deal, or merely a tempest in a teapot? To break the tie, we visit the blog of another prominent Palin critic, Andrew Halcro. And what is he discussing? Not this ethics complaint? Instead, he's discussing an issue far more relevant and serious; namely, AGIA. Halcro takes issue with Governor Palin's recent statement in which she said she was now open to discussing fiscal terms with the producers. The prospective problem is that the terms in Palin's gas pipeline strategy, AGIA, prohibit her from doing exactly what she said she would do, namely, "whatever it takes to make sure this project happens". In fact, according to the AGIA contract, Sec 43.90.440, "If the state extends to another person preferential royalty or tax treatment for the purpose of facilitating the construction of a competing natural gas pipeline project in this state (Denali), the licensee (TransCanada) is entitled to payment from the state in the amount equal to three times the total amount of expenditures".
That means the state would have to pony up TREBLE damages to TransCanada. Last year, with oil at $140 per barrel, that might have been a worthwhile write-off. This year, with oil in the $50 range and a much smaller Permanent Fund, this could be unthinkable. Halcro believes Palin has put herself into a box.
AGIA could affect the size of our Permanent Fund dividends. Sarah Palin's wardrobe will have NO effect on our Permanent Fund dividend. The verdict - although Linda Kellen Biegel does not have frivolous intent, her complaint is frivolous by extent. A tempest in a teapot. Blogger Thomas Lamb seems to share this opinion. And the latest polls, showing a continuing 61 percent approval rating for Sarah Palin, better support my point of view.