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Ethics board still weighing Palin defense fund complaint

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

The state ethics board still hasn't taken action on its investigator's finding nine months ago that Sarah Palin's legal defense fund likely violated the law.

The process of the personnel board, which handles ethics complaints, is confidential. So it's not clear what's been going on since last summer with the ethics complaint, filed by Kim Chatman. Palin's lawyer, Tom Van Flein, said Wednesday it's still pending.

"The personnel board is actively working on the Chatman matter. That is all I can say about it at this time," he said.

A separate ethics complaint against the legal defense fund was dismissed this week, Van Flein said.

Palin's supporters created the Alaska Fund Trust in April 2009 to help her pay legal bills compiled defending herself in the "Troopergate" investigation and other ethics complaints. Chatman filed her ethics complaint not long after that, alleging the defense fund itself was against the law.

Personnel board investigator Tom Daniel, an Anchorage lawyer, issued a report on July 14, 2009.

"In light of the evidence that the governor expressly authorized the creation of the trust and the fact the trust website quite openly uses the governor's position to solicit donations, there is probable cause to believe that Governor Palin used, or attempted to use, her official position for personal gain in violation of Alaska statute," Daniel wrote.

Palin's team sharply disagreed with Daniel's interpretation.

Personnel board director Nicki Neal didn't return a phone message on Wednesday. The personnel board has dismissed nearly all the ethics complaints against Palin that it's handled.

The latest dismissed complaint also targeted the legal defense fund. The report dismissing it hasn't been publicly released. But Van Flein said the dismissal made clear that Palin could raise money for the fund after resigning on July 26 as governor and becoming a private citizen. The issue remaining is whether Palin was allowed to solicit contributions while she was still governor.

The amount of money in the fund has not been released. Meg Stapleton, who was Palin's spokeswoman at the time, said last July that she understood it had raised about $250,000. The fund's website has continued to solicit donations but Van Flein said the fund remains frozen until the personnel board resolves the remaining complaint.

"No money has been distributed on behalf of Sarah Palin from that trust fund," Van Flein said.

Find Sean Cockerham online at or call him at 257-4344.