Sarah Palin, Big Spender

Republicans are masters of getting elected by pretending to be things far different from what they really are. Many are as skilled at deceiving the voters as they are incompetent at governing. In addition to the bogus claims of being a maverick, Sarah Palin is being billed as a fiscal conservative. The more we find out about Palin, the more we find that she is just another politician who freely spends government money. Today The Washington Post reports on some questionable use of taxpayers’ money:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.

The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.

Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official “duty station” is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.

The governor’s daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show…

In separate filings, the state was billed about $25,000 for Palin’s daughters’ expenses and $19,000 for her husband’s.

Flights topped the list for the most expensive items, and the daughter whose bill was the highest was Piper, 7, whose flights cost nearly $11,000, while Willow, 14, claimed about $6,000 and Bristol, 17, accounted for about $3,400.

One event was in New York City in October 2007, when Bristol accompanied the governor to Newsweek’s third annual Women and Leadership Conference, toured the New York Stock Exchange and met local officials and business executives. The state paid for three nights in a $707-a-day hotel room. Garnero said the governor’s office has the authority to approve hotel stays above $300.

Asked Monday about the official policy on charging for children’s travel expenses, Garnero said: “We cover the expenses of anyone who’s conducting state business. I can’t imagine kids could be doing that.”

There is certainly a fine line when family expenses are included. Later the article gives further examples of expenses:

The family also charged for flights around the state, including trips to Alaska events such as the start of the Iditarod dog-sled race and the Iron Dog snowmobile race, a contest that Todd Palin won.

Meanwhile, Todd Palin spent $725 to fly to Edmonton, Alberta, for “information gathering and planning meeting with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology,” according to an expense report. During the three-day trip, he charged the state $291 for his per diem. A notation said “costs paid by Dept. of Labor.” He also billed the state $1,371 for a flight to Washington to attend a National Governors Association meeting with his wife.

This story follows a recent report from McClatchy that Palin used tax money when speaking before her controversial church:

Gov. Sarah Palin used state funds in June when she traveled from Juneau to Wasilla to speak to graduating evangelical students and urge them to fan out through Alaska “to make sure God’s will be done here.”

State records show that Palin submitted a travel authorization for a quick round-trip visit to attend the June 8 graduation of the Master’s Commission program at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the church where she was baptized at age 12. The only other item on the agenda for that trip was a “One Lord Sunday” service involving a network of Mat-Su Christian churches earlier that morning at the Wasilla sports complex.

The records show Palin flew from Juneau to Anchorage on Saturday, June 7. She returned to Juneau that Monday afternoon. The plane tickets cost the state $519.50, and she claimed an additional $120 for meals and other expenses.

This report creates questions both about fiscal responsibility and her views on separation of church and state. The article also reports:

In her eight-minute remarks, delivered without notes except when she read a brief scripture passage, she melded the issues of governance with a call to bringing Alaskans to God.

“What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys as you go out throughout Alaska — I can do my part in doing things like working really, really hard to get a natural gas pipeline.” Palin said. “Pray about that also. I think God’s will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that. But I can do my job there, in developing our natural resources, and doing things like getting the roads paved, making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded.

“But really, all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s hearts isn’t right with God. And that’s going to be your job,” she said. “As I’m doing my job, let’s strike this deal. Your job is going to be: to be out there, reaching the people, (the) hurting people throughout Alaska, and we can work together to make sure God’s will be done here.”

Most likely these travel expenses are not illegal, but they do cast doubt on the manner in which Republicans are trying to portray her as a fiscal conservative.

Update: Besides being a big spender on travel expenses, her record at cutting expenses has not been very impressive.

Update II: While such expenditures were ok for Palin’s family, it looks like she has objected to per diems for members of the legislature. This is from The Anchorage Daily News, July 29, 2007:

“Holding a special session in Anchorage last month cost the state at least $103,500, according to the head of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Criticized for adjourning the regular session without renewing a program that gave cash payments to low-income seniors, legislators called the one-day meeting on June 26 […]

Legislators earned a per diem of $278 each. The money is meant to be used on meals and hotels, she said, and is a little more than legislators would get in Juneau.

Holding the session in Anchorage costs about $2,000 more per day for per diems, which are based on rates set by the federal government, she said.

The overall price tag struck Gov. Sarah Palin as too high.

“That makes absolutely no sense, that a seven-hour meeting costs our Legislature over $100,000,” Palin said. “What the heck were they charging the state for then?”

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