Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Alaska Progressive Blog Roundup - July 11, 2009 -- The Lie Chart

I. Getting the truth out on how big a lie the spreadsheets issued by soon-to-be-ex Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's administration is, has been easier than it has been to get most of Alaska's media to cover the story honestly. The dishonesty of what is actually occurring here was first covered, not by Alaska media, not even by an Alaska progressive blog, but by an out-of-state blog I'd never heard of, The Plum Line, at the web site, Who Runs GOV. The blog's author, Greg Sargent, had somehow obtained the now heavily-questioned spread sheets early Wednesday morning. His reporter, Amanda Erickson, then called Palin's new communication director, David Murrow, and got the latter to admit:

that this total was arrived at by adding up attorney hours spent on fending off complaints — based on the fixed salaries of lawyers in the governor’s office and the Department of Law. The money would have gone to the lawyers no matter what they were doing. The complaints are “just distracting them from other duties,” Murrow said.

In other words, while these lawyers might have been free to do other legal work for the state, the ethics complaints have apparently not had the real world impact Palin has claimed, and didn’t drain money away from cops, teachers, roads and other things.

Sargent's and Erickson's work was up by 12:05 p.m. Wednesday, Alaska time. Alaska blogs and the Anchorage Daily News followed with a cascade of stories that were updated as new information became available.

Late Wednesday, another out-of-state source, the Christian Science Monitor, came up with a story written by Alaska-based reporter, Yereth Rosen, that made a very important point:

If public-records requests are expensive, the Palin administration’s practices help make them so, says Gregg Erickson, a Juneau economist and former state revenue official who publishes a specialized newsletter on Alaska budget issues.

“They have taken the position that a lawyer has to look at every single record before its release. If a lawyer has to look at it and review it, and maybe write a legal opinion on it, well, that’s going to be expensive,” says Mr. Erickson. Court fights also add to the costs, he says.

Citizens and journalists who sought public records have been socked with huge bills. At one point, the Palin administration presented the Associated Press with a bill of $45 million for copies of official state e-mails sent to Palin’s husband, to the McCain campaign, and to federal agencies.

That practice predated Palin’s ascension to the national stage.

In December 2007, when University of Alaska marine scientist Rick Steiner sought reports detailing state biologists’ assessments about then-impending Endangered Species Act protections for polar bears, he received a $468,784 bill from the state. After a few months of haggling, Dr. Steiner turned to the Bush administration. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which had its own copies of state biologists’ reports, readily complied.

They didn’t charge me a dime,” Steiner says. The reports showed that state biologists, contrary to Palin’s assertion, did not dispute a threatened listing for polar bears, Steiner says.

That and other episodes prove the Alaska Public Records Act should be reformed, says Steiner. Citizens cannot be expected to pay huge fees to view public documents, and secrecy exemptions should be narrowed, he says. Even if the state bears financial costs, he says, “that’s the cost of open government.” Given modern information technology, “it shouldn’t be that expensive at all.” [emphases added]

Alaskan economist Gregg Erickson had made similar observations to those disclosed to Rosen, in an op-ed in the ADN last week:

As Palin's first Juneau press conference as governor was breaking up, she called my wife and me aside. With apparent sincerity she asked us why we had had so much trouble getting public records from previous governors: "Why wouldn't they want you to have the full story about what they were doing?" It struck me at the time as both naive and refreshing.

Two weeks later I discovered a memorandum from a senior state attorney revealing that a top Palin aide had instructed him to keep documents secret from our newsletter even if the legal basis for doing so was weak or problematic. A few weeks after that, Meghan Stapleton, Palin's then-press secretary, told me they were keeping the documents secret because they public might misunderstand them.

Since then Palin has become the most secretive governor in Alaska's history. This month she refused to release even her official schedule or reveal when she is leaving the state. Questions from reporters are often simply ignored, or she answers a different question than the one asked. All the while she continues to mouth the claim that her administration is "open and transparent."

Alaska bloggers, led by Mel Green at Henkimaa, and AK Muckraker at The Mudflats, along with Sean Cockerham at the ADN, are tearing the Palin administration's blatantly dishonest meme to complete shreds. Contrast their honest work with that of Jason Moore and Lori Tipton from KTUU TV:

The cost of complaints just keeps adding up.

New numbers released from the governor's office show the state has spent nearly $2 million investigating ethics complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin and her staff.

These numbers were released to back up Palin's claim that these frivolous ethics complaints have cost taxpayers too much, and one state lawmaker hopes to help change that.

"It cost Alaskans $2 million, your dollars, my dollars, everybody's dollars," said state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage.

Lynn says he wants to make it harder to file ethics complaints against the governor and is working on a bill aimed at discouraging frivolous complaints by requiring confidentiality.

"What's happening now is people are filing what appear to be frivolous complaints," Lynn said. "And it's all over TV, it's all over the radio, the newspaper and everything before they've had a chance to weigh in on it."

Lynn says Palin's popularity could be fueling more ethics complaints, and with his bill a case would only be made public if the charges are substantiated.

"It appears it is more for political agenda rather than trying to get to the bottom of some ethics complaint," Lynn said.

Some have criticized Lynn, saying whether valid or not, a complaint should not be silenced.

Friday evening Public Television in Anchorage's Anchorage Edition didn't do much better than Moore and Tipton, with KTUU's Steve McDonald and he ADN's Rosemary Shinohara both failing to mention the questions about Palin's dubious claims. The only panelist to acquit himself on the matter of Palin's questionable record on ethics was independent commentator, Paul Jenkins.

II. Independent commentator and talk show host, Shannyn Moore (her weekly program airs today on KBYR from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.), was attacked this week by Palin's personal attorney, Thomas van Flein, for fully reporting what she has been hearing. Then, Moore was attacked in a very weird ad defamatory op-ed in the ADN that went far over any line, real or imaginary, that Moore was being falsely accused of crossing.

Alaska Republican Party propagandist, JoAnn Grimes, wrote falsely that Moore had claimed the FBI is investigating Palin or the Palins. Grimes goes on to print a long string of slander and lies. Why the ADN allowed this beats me.

Moore was awarded the week's Wings of Justice Award, from the prestigious progressive blog and news aggregator, BuzzFlash, and she has certainy not been deterred by Grimes' slanders and van Flein's threats.

III. The signs, so far, are that incoming Gov. Sean Parnell will be as conservative as Palin, perhaps more so. The good news, I guess, is that Parnell has a history of honesty and accessibility. We'll see if this hesitant, fairly modest man can restore Alaskans' confidence in his high office, and erase or patch over the scorched earth remnants of the most divisive political figure in Alaskan, or even recent American, political history.

Alaska's progressive bloggers will be following him closely. hopefully, we'll also be holding all three of our national legislators' feet to the fire on health care reform.

image - contest winner from The Mudflats


KaJo said...

Since last Wednesday, all C4P has been able to do is attack, attack, attack everybody who's investigated the patently dishonest PDF spreadsheet, and anyone who's come to any conclusions about Sarah Palin's honest based on that report.

Witness: their attack on Peggy Noonan.

That's as infantile as the 15-person "demonstration" outside Dave Letterman's studio in NYC a month ago.

Their behavior and the benign reporting of it by US News & World Report is further evidence of the polarization and deterioration of MSM.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know the date the spreadsheet was predated and if/when similar spreadsheets were prepared. If this tally was first done after Palin's claim of $2,000,000, it would mean she estimated the allegedly huge cost correctly within 5% of the total - or was the spreadsheet and the numbers within created later to cover Palin's charge?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @10:25

You can find the spreadsheet on several blogs; Henkimaa has done an excellent job dissecting that ridiculous spreadsheet on several posts.

Phil, great post!! Thanks for the sharing the info. You know, with over 600,000 constituents in the State of Alaska, and less than 20 complaints filed, ol' GINO sure has her drawers in a wad!

Anonymous said...

Your inclusion of what happened to Rick Steiner regarding his request of documents (charged $468,784 by state but later got the documents for free from the Federal gov't) shows conclusively the strong arm tactics that Palin has used with Alaskan citizens. Anyone who can look at this example and NOT question the spreadsheet and other claims by Palin are hopelessly close-minded.

Kat said...

Phil, I think it's also worthwhile to mention the $65,000 the State said it would cost to provide Linda at Celtic Diva with email records between the Gov & her staff and Eddie Burke & Sheila Toomey (Alaska Ear). Linda asked for a waiver from the fees which is allowable under Alaska Law to journalists, service to the general public, etc. which is what a blogger is and does. I don't have a reference here so am not quoting correctly but you get the idea. Can you supply the reference? Linda was denied as not qualifying. Big surprise. When she limited the scope of the records requested the bill came to $5,500 +. We raised the money which was sent to the State. No word yet on a response. This is beyond criminal. Certainly NOT open and transparent and might be called usary.

Star the wonder pup said...

The Alaska chapter of the ACLU so needs to file a suit to overturn the extortionate charges of the AK government for FOIA requests.

I did not donate a dime to Linda for her request. It was a worthy cause, but the money could have been better spent challenging the State's stance.

I think a flurry of FOIA requests are in order. I intend to play.