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Palin Billed State for Nights Spent at Home
"She flies coach and encourages her cabinet to fly coach as well," said Garnero, whose job is equivalent to state controller. "Some do, some don't."
Leighow said that the governor's staff has tallied the travel expenses charged by Murkowski's wife: $35,675 in 2006, $43,659 in 2005, $13,607 in 2004 and $29,608 in 2003. Associates of Murkowski said the former governor was moose hunting and could not be reached to comment.
In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.
"It was quite the little scandal," said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000. "I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam -- you pay yourself to live at home," he said.
Knowles, whose children were school-age at the start of his first term, said that his wife sometimes accompanied him to conferences overseas but that he could "count on one hand" the number of times his children accompanied him.
"And the policy was not to reimburse for family travel on commercial airlines, because there is no direct public benefit to schlepping kids around the state," he said. The rules were articulated by Mike Nizich, then director of administrative services in the governor's office, said Knowles and an aide to another former governor, Walter Hickel.
Nizich is now Palin's chief of staff. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. The rules governing family travel on state-owned aircraft appear less clear. Knowles said he operated under the understanding that immediate family could accompany the governor without charge.
But during the Murkowski years, that practice was questioned, and the state attorney general's office produced an opinion saying laws then in effect required reimbursement for spousal travel.
Research editor Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.