Palin, the press, and the ethics charges

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

We noted earlier this week that the Anchorage Daily News did Palin's "No más" moment a real service when it put into context how much money the state of Alaska had spent on what Palin has derided as frivolous ethics investigations against her. They're costing the state millions, Palin has claimed, and cited the expenses as a reason for her decision to quit.

But according to the ADN, the investigations have cost the state roughly $300,000, which raises all kinds of doubts about whether that was really the reason Palin decided to walk away from her governorship. At the time, we asked, did Palin really quit over a $300,000 tab? And would the rest of the press pick up on the ADN's analysis?

We still don't know the real answer to the first question. But we know other journalists are now taking notice. WashPost blogger Greg Sargent delved into why Palin claims the ethics inquiries cost Alaska nearly $2 million in fees:

But [David] Murrow, the [governor's] spokesperson, acknowledged to our reporter, Amanda Erickson, that this total was arrived at by adding up attorney hours spent on fending off complaints — based on the fixed salaries of lawyers in the governor's office and the Department of Law. The money would have gone to the lawyers no matter what they were doing. The complaints are "just distracting them from other duties," Murrow said.

In other words, while these lawyers might have been free to do other legal work for the state, the ethics complaints have apparently not had the real world impact Palin has claimed, and didn't drain money away from cops, teachers, roads and other things.

The ADN made a similar point:

Palin said Monday she didn't view the cost as just the $300,000 for the personnel board -- but rather $2 million for the state. It is a figure her administration now uses -- not meant to be actual checks written by the state but to also reflect time of state employees.

It is a per-hour calculation that the Palin administration put together, involving time spent by state lawyers deciding which public information to release as a result of all public records requests, time spent by governor's office staffers responding to media inquiries about ethics complaints, and time technicians spend on retrieving requested e-mail, among other things.

In other words, the $2 million figure that Palin and her conservative defenders in the press use to justify her resignation looks increasingly dubious. Reporters and pundits ought to take note.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Alaska bloggers are all over this story, providing important insight and analysis. See here, here and here.

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