A shaky story starts to look worse

A SHAKY STORY STARTS TO LOOK WORSE…. The rationale for Sarah Palin’s resignation has never made sense, but it seems even less clear now.

One of the few specific points the governor has raised deals with “frivolous” ethics violations filed by her political enemies. Here’s what she said in her announcement speech on Friday:

“Political operatives descended on Alaska last August, digging for dirt. The ethics law I championed became their weapon of choice. Over the past nine months I’ve been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations….

“The state has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to ‘opposition research’ — that’s money not going to fund teachers or troopers or safer roads…. Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills in order to set the record straight. And what about the people who offer up these silly accusations? It doesn’t cost them a dime so they’re not going to stop draining public resources — spending other peoples’ money in their game.

“It’s pretty insane — my staff and I spend most of our day dealing with this instead of progressing our state now.”

Some of this may sound vaguely plausible. A constant stream of ethics charges may very well prove to be distracting and cumbersome. It’s not a compelling reason to quit and walk away from one’s responsibilities to a state, but it’s not inconceivable.

But there’s new evidence to suggest the argument is just factually wrong. Greg Sargent reported that the governor’s own office conceded yesterday that money used to respond to the ethics charges are part of fixed costs that would have gone to the same lawyers, whether the charges were filed or not. The funds wouldn’t have gone to schools, police, or transportation, as Palin claimed. The $1.9 million “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.”

What’s more, Palin is currently only facing three pending complaints — hardly the kind of burden that should take up “most” of a governor’s staff’s time.

And there’s something else that’s been bugging me about the official explanation. For years, the Alaska Republican establishment was deeply involved in widespread corruption. According to Palin’s version of events, when she took office, she championed a major overhaul of the state’s ethics laws. To hear Palin tell it, her opponents are now using her own achievement against her — exploiting the law to waste taxpayer money, bankrupt the state’s governor, and paralyze state government.

Doesn’t that suggest there’s something wrong with the new ethics laws? If the measures were written in such a way as to make it easy and cost-free for anyone to cripple the state’s political process, then don’t the reform laws need reforming? Indeed, even putting Palin aside, won’t all future Alaskan governors have to deal with the same problem?

It sounds like Palin has firsthand experience in identifying the flaws in her own law. If she weren’t quitting, and letting her own flawed ethics rules force her from office, maybe she could work on improving the system and helping the state.