Sarah Palin’s political action committee spent tens of thousands of dollars covering the costs of the former Alaska governor’s “One Nation” East Coast bus tour this spring — a trip that Palin (R) has repeatedly characterized as a “family vacation.”
According to a list of itemized expenditures filed by SarahPAC to the Federal Elections Committee and published Thursday, Palin’s committee spent nearly $14,000 on the “bus wrap” that festooned the family’s tour bus with images of the Liberty Bell, Constitution and American flag. The committee spent $10,000 on “logistical trip consulting,” $3,600 to the bus driver and at least $7,000 on lodging.
But the total for the trip is likely much more, because many bills came in after the June 30 filing deadline, Sarah PAC treasurer Tim Crawford said in an interview. In addition, many other expenses associated with the trip, such as photography, videography, Internet fundraising and airfare, are more difficult to account for. (One item in the report describes $6,999 paid to an air charter company called Republican Presidential Travel on June 9, at the tail end of “One Nation.”)
The details of the Palin committee’s expenditures for the first six months of the year came out on the same day that the National Park Service issued an official reply to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who had written Park Service Director John Jarvis in early June for an accounting of whether the Palins received special treatment or whether taxpayer resources were spent to accommodate them.
In his response, Jarvis said that the Palins were not asked to obtain permits to their visits to the national parks because the stops “were personal, family visits.”
“The governor was not looking to hold an event, give a speech, or conduct any other activity that would require a National Park Service permit,” Jarvis wrote. “They also told us that they were not publishing her schedule in advance. However, given the significant media attention, and the large ‘branded’ bus in which the family would be traveling, it was clear that these would not be the typical family visits that we see most days in most national parks.”
For that reasons, Jarvis said, the agency did what it often does for celebrities: accommodated the Palins to minimize disruption not only for them but for other visitors to the parks she visited.
“For example, at Gettysburg” National Military Park, Jarvis wrote, “because the museum tends to be busier later in the day, the Gettysburg Foundation offered an early tour by its non-government staff to avoid interfering with the visits of as many people as possible. At Independence [National Historical Park in Philadelphia], Governor Palin and her family walked through the Liberty Bell Center with other visitors.”
Jarvis continued: “All parks used on-duty staff during Governor Palin’s visits. No overtime was incurred or paid. The visits were short, and upon her departure, all NPS employees directly involved in her visit immediately returned to regularly scheduled assignments.”
Palin billed her “One Nation” trip as nothing more than a family vacation complete with kids, grandparents and many hours on Interstate 95.
But there was nothing typical about this vacation, which attracted endless national attention and ignited widespread speculation about whether the popular conservative was testing the waters for a presidential campaign. The trip is expected to resume in the Midwest this summer, but it has been delayed in part because Palin was called for jury duty in Alaska and must report to the local courthouse each morning for the rest of July or until she is placed on a jury.
The bus tour required a good deal of planning and preparation by the historic sites that received her. Although they didn’t ask for it, Palin and her family received VIP treatment just about everywhere they went: a private guided tour of Mount Vernon, early admission into the National Archives, and private tours at all of the federally managed National Park Service properties they visited, including a 10-person escort of national parks employees and New York City police officers at the Statue of Liberty.
The Palins also bypassed long lines and avoided crowded exhibit rooms — and hitched a ride to the statue on a National Park Service boat from New Jersey, avoiding the often hours-long wait for the public boat from Lower Manhattan.
In his letter, Blumenauer described Palin’s trip as a “partisan political tour” that provided her with “personal and political” benefits. On Thursday, Blumenauer spokesman Derek Schlickeisen said: “Not every American family had a federal PAC to pay for their family vacations.”
In the FEC report, SarahPAC reported raising a total of nearly $1.7 million during the first six months of the year and having $1.4 million on hand on June 30.