Kim Chatman filed an ethics complaint against Governor Palin for creating a legal defense fund to pay legal bills of $600,000, incurred by Governor Palin and caused by Chatman and her partners by filing frivolous ethics complaints.
The confidential report of attorney, Thomas Daniel, hired by the Alaska Personnel Board to investigate, was leaked to the Associated Press. Mr. Daniel, knowledgeable about the Executive Branch Ethics law, also acknowledged the law is in need of repair. He would not breech confidentiality by discussing specifics but confirmed that he only provided copies of the report to Governor Palin, Kim Chatman and the Board. Governor Palin did not waive confidentiality. Chatman stated she did not release the report. The Associate Press refused to say who did. Confidentiality in Alaska personnel laws is now a bad joke.
Mr. Daniel reported that a legal defense fund could provide personal gain for a governor by paying legal bills. Significantly, he did not find that the Alaska Fund Trust had provided personal gain for Governor Palin. Trustee, Kristan Cole, wisely made no distributions from the Alaska Fund Trust to date.
The hole in the ethics law is that the Attorney General cannot provide defense to a governor if accused of ethical breaches. The governor provides their defense at their own expense. Partisans used this loophole to bludgeon Governor Palin with nineteen ethics complaints costing the state $2,000,000 and the Governor, $600,000.
Being governor must be really fun. Is it worth $600,000? My bride would advise me to seek other employment. Maybe, like my son, study law. The only winners in this are attorneys who are doing quite well. This Ethics law has become the attorneys’ stimulus plan.
Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Ms. Cole is accused of creating an illegal fund. Alaska and Washington D. C. ethics attorneys carefully vetted the Alaska Fund Trust. One gang of attorneys formed the Alaska Fund Trust and blessed it as perfectly legal. Another gang of attorneys says Alaska law is silent on legal defense funds and federal statutes don’t apply. Mr. Daniel determined that Alaska law is silent on legal defense funds and that if the legal bills were paid by the Fund that could be an illegal gift to a sitting governor.
You decide. AS 39.52.130(a) states:
A public officer may not solicit, accept or receive, directly or indirectly, a gift, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, employment, promise, or in any other form, that is a benefit to the officer’s personal or financial interests, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the first is intended to influence the performance of the official duties, actions, or judgment.
Reading the statute provides comfort from legal insanity. No legal bills have been paid. The Governor has not taken any official action that could be influenced by such non-payment. After Sunday, she is not Governor and cannot be influenced by a gift, except maybe one from the former First Dude. Case closed.
For all future governors, Senate Judiciary Chairman, Hollis French, D. Anchorage, a declared candidate for Governor and House Judiciary Chairman, Jay Ramras, R. Fairbanks, should team up to solve this problem in the upcoming Special Session of the Legislature, August 10, 2009. The two Judiciary Committee chairs should propose simple non-partisan legislation to:
1. Allow the Attorney General to provide counsel at state expense for all acts of public officials including those accused of wrongdoing under the Executive Branch Ethics act.
2. Provide that a public official, if found liable for violation of the Executive Branch Ethics act, reimburse the state for their defense.
3. Define in Alaska statutes the formation of legal defense funds for public officials to use in defending themselves from partisan attacks.
4. Require an ethics complaint be dismissed if confidentiality is violated, just as the Legislature’s Ethics code requires.
Governor Parnell then and future governors will not waste time responding personally or financially to partisan ethics complaints.