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Ethics investigations cost state $296,000

Ethics complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin and top members of her administration have cost the state personnel board nearly $300,000 over the past year, almost two-thirds of which appear to be from the Troopergate investigation of the governor.

That's according to new figures released by the personnel board, which described them as "independent counsel expenditures." The board hires private lawyers to investigate the complaints. The expenditures were released after the personnel board expressed frustration at the costs of the complaints. Palin has said the state is wasting money trying to resolve "frivolous" complaints against her.

The bulk of the expenses -- $187,797 -- appear to stem from Troopergate, the messy case involving Palin's former brother-in-law, a state trooper, who got on the wrong side with Palin and her family.

Palin herself initiated at least a part of the ethics case to counter a legislative investigation into the same matter. An additional Troopergate ethics complaint was brought by the state troopers union, which complained Palin and others improperly disclosed confidential personnel and workers' compensation records of her former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, and engaged in systematic efforts to have Wooten fired. The personnel board dismissed the union complaint.

The newly released expense list doesn't specify the nature of each case listed. It only provides internal case numbers followed by the total expenses incurred for each one of the cases. The board won't say which case numbers correspond with which complaint, or provide a detailed breakdown of the expenses. Under state law, ethics complaints are secret unless the subject of the complaint waives privacy.

Tim Petumenos, the independent counsel hired by the personnel board for the Troopergate investigation and some of the others, said he couldn't talk about the expense list until he gets approval from the personnel board. State personnel director Nicki Neal wouldn't elaborate either, but said she will provide more information once she determines which complaints are no longer subject to the privacy rule.

It is possible to deduce which expenses could correspond with some of the known ethics complaints filed against the governor.

The chronology of the expense list suggests that the second most expensive case, which cost $43,028, could be a complaint filed by Anchorage activist Andree McLeod. McLeod contended Palin and some of her staff members used their influence to get a Palin supporter a job in state government.

Petumenos, who investigated that complaint for the personnel board, concluded Palin didn't do anything wrong. But he recommended ethics training for one of her longtime aides, Frank Bailey, because of a series of "troubling" E-mails.

McLeod said her complaint might not have been so costly to the state had Palin not been traveling around the country on the vice-presidential campaign trail.

Petumenos travelled to St. Louis to interview Palin at least about the Troopergate allegations. McLeod said she understood that Petumenos also raised her allegations in that same interview.

"They had to go down and follow her all over the ends of the Earth to get her deposed," McLeod said. "Sarah Palin is costing the state a hell of a lot more than just this amount."

The governor's office has said 15 "frivolous" ethics complaints against Palin or her staff, some on issues raised by bloggers, have been dismissed with no findings she violated the executive branch ethics act. "How much will this blogger's asinine political grandstanding cost all of us in time and money?" she asked about a March complaint.

The most expensive cases were all from last year. The third most costly one, which was listed at $29,962, could be a complaint made against Palin for having the state pay for her children's travel. Palin ended up settling that complaint by agreeing to reimburse the state about $8,000 for several trips.

The most high-profile ethics issue was the Troopergate matter. A report commissioned by the state Legislature concluded that Palin broke ethics law and abused her power in allowing her husband and top aides to push for Wooten's firing. But the Petumenos report for the state personnel board came to the opposite conclusion and did not find Palin abused her power, while acknowledging the difficulty of securing relevant e-mails.

Palin herself reportedly has incurred over $600,000 in personal legal bills defending against complaints, although she won't provide a breakdown of the expenses or what cases they were for. Palin friends and supporters set up a legal defense fund and are soliciting contributions for her legal bills.

Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call 257-4344.

Ethics complaints filed against Palin
By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com