Palin Will Pay Alaska Back for Kids' Trips

JUNEAU, AlaskaAlaska Governor Sarah Palin will reimburse the state nearly $7,000 for costs associated with nine trips taken by her children, her attorney said Tuesday.

Palin must reimburse the state within 120 days, according to a settlement agreement filed by a special investigator hired by the Alaska Personnel Board to investigate an ethics complaint filed against her.

The exact amount will be determined by the Alaska Department of Administration, said Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein. He estimated the amount would be $6,800.

There is no state law prohibiting the governor's family from traveling with her and the personnel board found no wrongdoing on the part of the governor. But the investigator, Timothy Petumenos, interpreted the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act to require that the state only pay if the first family serves an important state interest.

Petumenos said "some of the travel raised by the Complaint does not meet this standard," according to the agreement.

Van Flein said 72 travel authorizations were studied, with nine found to be of questionable state interest.

Those include airfare and one meal for her daughter Bristol Palin, who accompanied the governor to New York for Newsweek's Third Annual Women and Leadership Conference in October 2007.

Other trips include Bristol attending "Beauty and the Beast" at the Valley Performing Arts Center, airfare for daughters Piper and Bristol to travel to Juneau from Anchorage for the State of the State address and airfare for Piper to attend the start of the Iron Dog snowmachine race and the Alaska Outdoor Council Banquet.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Palin said she was gratified that no fault was ascribed to her. She said she agreed to support a clarification of the rules to avoid similar disputes in the future.

"Although I am not required to do so, I will set a new standard on travel now by assuming the burden of these particular expenses," Palin said.

The former Republican vice presidential candidate called the complaint "an obvious political weapon" filed just before the election.

The complaint was filed in October by Anchorage Democrat Frank Gwartney, 60, who alleged that Palin used her official position as governor for personal gain, violating a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

Gwartney, a retired power company lineman, said he was not surprised that the personnel board, whose three members are appointed by the governor, failed to find wrongdoing.

"I think it's really apparent that she was wrongfully using state funds to conduct personal business," he said. "They basically are an extension of the governor's office so I think they would be hard pressed to actually come out and condemn her as they should."

Gwartney's complaint followed a report by The Associated Press that Palin charged the state more than $21,000 for her three daughters' commercial flights, including events where they weren't invited, and later ordered their expense forms amended to specify official state business.

Administration officials have said Alaska law allows governors to charge the state for their family's travel if they conduct state business.

Van Flein said the governor's action in reaching the agreement was voluntary and above what was legally and ethically required of her.

"She did not have to do this. She did not have to reach this agreement and she's been fully cleared by this investigation," he said. "The problem that was raised by the complaint was determined to be a lack of clarity in the rules and regulations and a lack of familiarity, because of that lack of clarity, with long-term state employees whose job it is to handle this."

Petumenos was asked to examine the complaint at the same time he was investigating allegations that Palin fired her public safety commissioner over his refusal to let go a state trooper involved in a contentious divorce with Palin's sister.

That investigation found there was no probable cause to believe Palin or any other state official violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act.

In a separate legislative investigation, special counsel Stephen Branchflower found that Palin had abused her office but the firing was legal since Commissioner Walt Monegan was an at-will employee.

The so-called "Troopergate" scandal became politically charged after Palin was tapped to be Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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