Preliminary Report Questions Palin Legal Defense Fund

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Legal questions continue to follow Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in her final days of office.

A preliminary report raises the possibility that Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, who has been dogged by ethics complaints, many of them dismissed as frivolous, may not be allowed to pay her legal bills with money from her legal defense fund.

Ms. Palin has amassed legal bills of more than $500,000 and has said that those debts are part of the reason she is resigning her office. She steps down on Sunday, a year and a half before the end of her term.

The preliminary report, written by Thomas M. Daniel, an investigator for the state personnel board, came in response to an ethics complaint filed shortly after the fund was established a few months ago. The complaint questioned whether it was proper for the governor to have a defense fund in the first place.

The report, written July 14 and first reported Tuesday by The Associated Press, said that the governor had an unfair fund-raising advantage over ordinary citizens because she was a public official, that her fund was trading on her status as a public official to solicit donations and that contributions to the fund could amount to improper gifts under Alaska law. It recommended that Ms. Palin refuse to accept payment from the fund.

The report also suggested Ms. Palin seek reimbursement from the state for the cost of defending herself against ethics complaints that have been dismissed.

Ms. Palin wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the report was preliminary, saying, “Re: inaccurate story floating re: ethics violation/legal defense fund; matter is still pending; new info was just requested even; no final report.”

Kristan Cole, the defense fund trustee, said in an e-mail message: “I haven’t seen any report, and as a matter of fact was just asked for additional information as of yesterday, July 20.”

Ms. Cole added: “Just a reminder that this legal expense fund was thoroughly vetted by numerous attorneys from Alaska to the East Coast. The purpose of the trust is to help the governor with the crushing legal fees she has incurred solely because of her public service.”

The fund has raised more than $250,000, but that money cannot be spent pending resolution of the ethics complaint.

Ms. Palin is expected to receive several million dollars for a book about her experience in 2008 as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

John Coale, a Washington lawyer who helped set up the legal defense fund, said that such funds were common and that the complaint against Ms. Palin was “ridiculous.”

Katharine Q. Seelye
The New York Times

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