Palin’s Millllions – Take 2. A Closer Look.
As we all know, one of Sarah Palin’s reasons for stepping down had to do with, as Palin said, ”that huge waste that we have seen with the countless, countless hours that state staff is spending on these frivolous ethics violations and the millions of dollars that Alaskans are spending, that money not going to things that are very important, like troopers and roads and teachers and fish research.”
When pressured to explain exactly where this “million of dollars” came from, Palin’s office released a .pdf file of the breakdown of it’s claim of $1.9 million that should have been going elsewhere. (insert sound effect of someone pedaling backwards really fast)
Most of it is a per-hour accounting of the time state employees, such as state attorneys, have spent working on public records requests, lawsuits, ethics complaints, and issues surrounding the Legislature’s ”Troopergate” investigation last summer of Palin.
”Is it a check that we wrote, no, but is it staff hours, yes,” Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Palin, said of the expenses related to state employee work. Those state employees would have been paid regardless.
Ahhh. So it’s not an actual check. It’s “staff hours.”
First of all, just to be clear, unlike The White House, the state of Alaska does indeed have a “Department of Law.” And in order to understand how truly outlandish Palin’s claims are, we’re going to need to take a mental field trip into that very Department of Law, pull back the curtain and take a peek at how that all works. So everyone stick together and follow me.
If something comes up that requires attention it is billed to various departments and state agencies by the Department of Law, depending on what the matter is all about. Attorneys, then, are funded by different departments or agencies. Each attorney in the civil section is responsible for billing his or her time, so that a bill goes to the client agency each month. The funds are essentially transferred between agencies and the Department of Law. One of the clients on the client list is the Governor’s Office. So, if the Governor’s Office has received a larger-than-normal legal bill, the work that the attorneys would otherwise be billing another agency or Department is instead being billed to the Governor’s Office.
The biggest chunk of that, more than $600,000, represents hours state lawyers spent reviewing requested information. They decide how much to release. Records can be withheld for reasons like an individual’s privacy or for “deliberative process” — an executive privilege generally limited to the governor and close advisers, covering internal deliberations before a decision is made.
That’s how the governor’s office explained it to the Anchorage Daily News. It’s all those hours of reviewing information from records requests that really added up.
From what I hear from those in the know, no attorney was pulled off another matter in order to do public records requests. There is one attorney named Dave Jones who is running the request issues, and then whatever attorneys are sifting through the emails respond to those requests. The sifting in the case of ethics complaints was handled on a volunteer basis by attorneys from various sections within the Department of Law, who were otherwise slow. In other words, the attorneys who were doing the public records requests would have been paid the same amount of money to sit around looking for stuff to do, had they not been working on the records requests. The only difference is that instead of the amount being billed to another department, it was billed to the Governor’s Office. So far there have been no indications that any attorney stayed late or worked a weekend because of the public records requests, or where something else wasn’t properly handled because of the public records requests. Presumably, if the sifters had anything more important to be doing, they wouldn’t have volunteered.
And interestingly, page 2 of the .pdf document lists the time and costs for Assistant Attorneys General Bockmon and Jones. Judy Bockmon is the state’s ethics attorney. Handling ethics inquiries is her JOB. So, by working on these ethics issues, she was not doing anything outside of her normal job description, and again, she would have been paid the SAME amount regardless of whether there were 15 complaints filed, or if there were none. Dave Jones represents the Governor’s Office as part (if not all) of his job. Here again, he would be paid the same amount regardless of how many ethics complaints there were, or if there were none. By listing their time on this cost breakdown, the Governor’s Office is implying that they were doing something unusual or special that required all these extra funds that could have been spent elsewhere, which is flatly untrue. They were simply doing their assigned job, much like an attorney in the environmental section would represent the DEC if something happened that caused a flood of litigation against it, and therefore “increased” bills.
So, if the “millions of dollars” is given as a reason, then debunked, then spun by the administration and then debunked again, we are left with the same question we had while we stared slackjawed last week watching the governor announce she was going to quit her job.
[Please post off-topic comments on the last open thread. Thanks!]