By Kimberly Kindy and Phillip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
An independent investigator has determined that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) may have violated state ethics laws by soliciting and accepting private donations to pay $500,000 in legal debts.
A confidential report, obtained by The Washington Post on Tuesday, says Palin may have violated laws prohibiting elected officials from using their office for "personal gain" by raising money for her Alaska Fund Trust. Supporters established the fund to help defend herself against more than a dozen ethics complaints filed against her since she took office.
"There is little doubt that the Alaska Fund Trust will provide 'personal gain' to Governor Palin because the trust will provide a benefit to the governor's financial interest," Anchorage lawyer Thomas M. Daniel wrote in his nine-page report, dated July 14.
Palin is scheduled to leave office this weekend, about 18 months before the end of her first term.
Daniel, who was hired by the state personnel board to investigate a complaint by Alaskan Kim Chatman, declined to discuss the contents of his report but outlined the process for handling it. After reviewing the report, Palin could decide to settle or the issue could go before an administrative law judge for a hearing, he said.
Among Daniel's recommendations in the report are that Palin "refuse to accept payment for her legal fees and costs" from the fund and ask the state to reimburse her for legal fees incurred for complaints that are dismissed.
Daniel's report also highlights the relationship between the fund's trustee, Kristan Cole, and Palin. The governor appointed Cole, a longtime friend, to positions on the Royalty Oil and Gas Commission and the Board of Agriculture and Conservation.
"The relationship between Ms. Cole and the governor could cause a 'reasonable person' to conclude that the payment of the governor's legal fees is intended to influence the governor's performance of official duties, action or judgment," Daniel wrote.
Cole defended the legality of the fund, which is still accepting donations, and said it was "thoroughly vetted by numerous attorneys from Alaska to the East Coast."
The attorney who helped Palin set up the fund denounced Daniel's conclusion. "There is no impropriety in the creation or operation of such a trust, and any suggestion to the contrary is candidly absurd," said Randy Evans, adding that Palin's fund "was specifically patterned after well-recognized trusts of prior presidential candidates."
And Palin's personal attorney said that the release of Daniel's report was premature and illegal. "The matter is still pending. Whatever you have seen was released in violation of law," Thomas Van Flein said in a statement.
Van Flein added that the governor was looking into her legal options over what he called a "clear violation" of Alaska law. "We will be contacting the appropriate authorities for review and action," he said.