Archive for October, 2008
Posted in Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, Associated Press, Elections 2008, Ethics Complaint Against Sarah Palin, Palin, Politics, Presidential Election 2008, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin Charges Taxpayers, Sarah Palin Extravagant Spending, Sarah Palin Shopping Spree, Sarah Plain Alaska Inquiry on October 30, 2008| 1 Comment »
Palin faces new ethics complaint over kids’ travel
By RACHEL D’ORO – 18 hours ago
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A new ethics complaint has been filed against Sarah Palin, accusing the Alaska governor of abusing her power by charging the state when her children traveled with her.
The complaint alleges that the Republican vice presidential nominee used her official position as governor for personal gain, violating a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. It follows a report by The Associated Press last week 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.
In some cases, Palin also has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.
The complaint released Wednesday says Palin charged the travel costs for events her children were not invited to and where they served in no legitimate state purpose or business.
“Governor Palin intentionally secured unwarranted benefits for family members, improperly used state property to benefit her personal and financial interests, and illegally altered documents that were the subject of a Public Records request,” the complaint states.
Earlier this month, a legislative report found Palin violated state ethics laws when she fired her public safety commissioner. The state’s Personnel Board also has hired an independent counsel for a similar investigation.
Under Alaska law, it is up to the Personnel Board to decide whether Palin violated state law. The attorney general’s office didn’t return messages seeking comment Wednesday, but has previously said the possible penalties in the first Personnel Board investigation could carry a possible fine of up to $5,000.
The latest complaint was filed by Frank Gwartney, an Anchorage Democrat who supports Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Gwartney, 60, said he is fed up with “all the corruption” among Alaska’s elected officials, including Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted this week on federal corruption charges.
“Sarah ran on this very self righteous campaign on ethics and anti-corruption,” Gwartney told the AP. “She is no different from the others.”
Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said he was not aware of the complaint and could not comment.
Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said she can’t comment specifically on the complaint because it is confidential. But she said generally the first family is expected to participate in community activities across Alaska and represents the state on travels.
“We receive hundreds of invitations for the governor each month, and a majority of them request the first family participate,” Leighow said. “The Palin children can only participate in a fraction of the events.”
Responding to the travel issue, Palin told Fox News last week that every Alaska governor has traveled with family when it’s a first family function. “And it’s always been charged to the state,” she said. “That’s part of the job.”
The state already is reviewing nearly $17,000 in per diem payments to Palin for 312 nights she slept at her home in Wasilla, about an hour’s drive from her satellite office in Anchorage.
In the complaint, Gwartney asks that the matter be investigated by the Alaska Personnel Board — a three-member panel is appointed by the governor.
The ethics travel grievance was first reported by CBS News.
Racists plotted to kill Obama, ATF says
By Carrie Johnson
10/27/2008 04:59:18 PM PDT
WASHINGTON — Investigators disrupted an improbable plan to assassinate Sen. Barack Obama and kill 102 other African-Americans in a spree fueled by white supremacist ideology, officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said Monday.
Federal prosecutors in Jackson, Tenn., unsealed a criminal complaint charging two men with conspiracy, possession of an unregistered sawed-off shotgun and making threats against a presidential candidate. Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, remain in federal custody.
The men met online nearly a month ago through a mutual friend who was not identified in court papers. Their chats intensified and their scheme took shape, according to a sworn statement by ATF agent Brian A. Weeks.
Using a .308-caliber rifle and a high-powered weapon they planned to steal from a gun store, the men plotted to “drive their vehicle as fast as they could toward Obama shooting at him from the windows,” the affidavit said. “Both individuals stated they would dress in all white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt.”
Cowart traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas to pick up Schlesselman at his residence Oct. 20. From there, they planned to rob a gun shop, target a predominately African-American school and ultimately attack Obama, who is leading in most national polls in his bid for the White House.
The far-fetched plot soon fell apart, however. The day after they met in person, the men attempted to rob a home in Bells, Tenn., only to be deterred when they spotted a dog and two vehicles on the premises, Weeks wrote.
On Oct. 22, while driving around randomly, they shot a window out of the Church of Christ of Beech Grove in Brownsville, Tenn., then returned to Cowart’s grandfather’s house, according to court papers. The same day, they purchased chalk and drew swastikas and other “racially motivated words and symbols” on the hood of their car, court papers said. The Crockett County sheriff took the men into custody that night.
Authorities recovered a short-barreled shotgun, two handguns, a rifle and ammunition, they reported.
“It is critical that the alleged plot was interrupted,” said James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Nashville office.
Richard Harlow, special agent in charge of the Memphis field office of the U.S. Secret Service, said the agency “takes all threats against presidential candidates seriously.”
Joe Byrd, an attorney for Cowart, did not return calls. A spokeswoman for the federal public defender’s office in Jackson, which is representing Schlesselman, declined to comment.
Both men are scheduled to appear again in court Thursday for a detention hearing, said Lawrence J. Laurenzi, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Skinheads held over Obama death plot
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two white supremacist skinheads were arrested in Tennessee over plans to go on a killing spree and eventually shoot Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, court documents showed on Monday.
Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman were charged in a criminal complaint with making threats against a presidential candidate, illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun and conspiracy to rob a gun dealer.
The plot did not appear to be very advanced or sophisticated, the court documents showed.
“We’re unsure of their ability or if they have the wherewithal to carry out any of their threats,” said a source close to the investigation.
Obama would be the first black president in U.S. history if he defeats Republican John McCain in the November 4 election. Concerns about Obama’s safety led the Secret Service to provide round-the-clock protection from early in his campaign.
The suspects met over the Internet about a month ago, said an affidavit filed by Brian Weaks, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“The individuals began discussing going on a ‘killing spree’ that included killing 88 people and beheading 14 African Americans,” Weaks said in the affidavit.
The men stole guns from family members and also had a sawed-off shotgun. They planned to target a predominately black school, going state to state while robbing individuals and continuing to kill people, Weaks said in the affidavit.
“They further stated that their final act of violence would be to attempt to kill/assassinate presidential candidate Barack Obama,” he said.
The men planned to wear white tuxedos and top hats during the assassination attempt, which would have involved driving as fast as they could toward Obama and shooting him from the windows of the car.
They planned their first house robbery for October 22 but ended up leaving without breaking in. Instead they bought ski masks, food and rope to use in their robbery attempts.
They were arrested later that day and officials unsealed the court docket on Monday.
They wrote racially motivated words and symbols on the exterior of Cowart’s vehicle, including a Swastika and the numbers “14” and “88” on the hood of the car.
ATF special agent in charge James Cavanaugh said “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet and 88 stood for “Heil Hitler.”
“The U.S. Secret Service takes all threats against presidential candidates seriously and is actively investigating the allegations,” said Richard Harlow, special agent in charge of the Secret Service-Memphis Field Office. “The Secret Service does not comment on this type of investigation.”
Posted in 2008 Presidential Candidates, Alaska, Anchorage, Barack Obama, Barack Obama vs John McCain, Obama 08, Palin, Politics, Sarah Palin, tagged Alaska Largest Newspaper, Anchorage Daily News on October 27, 2008| 1 Comment »
Alaska’s largest newspaper endorses Obama
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Anchorage Daily News, Alaska’s largest newspaper, endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Sunday after declaring Gov. Sarah Palin “too risky” to be one step away from the Oval Office.
“Like picking (Republican presidential candidate John) McCain for president, putting her one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world is just too risky at this time,” The Daily News said.
The newspaper said Obama “brings far more promise to the office. In a time of grave economic crisis, he displays thoughtful analysis, enlists wise counsel and operates with a cool, steady hand.”
The Daily News said since the economic crisis has emerged, McCain has “stumbled and fumbled badly” in dealing with it.
“Of the two candidates, Sen. Obama better understands the mortgage meltdown’s root causes and has the judgment and intelligence to shape a solution, as well as the leadership to rally the country behind it,” the paper said.
The Daily News said Palin has shown the country why she is a success as governor. But the paper said few would argue that Palin is truly ready to step into the job of being president despite her passion, charisma and strong work ethic.
“Gov. Palin’s nomination clearly alters the landscape for Alaskans as we survey this race for the presidency — but it does not overwhelm all other judgment. The election, after all is said and done, is not about Sarah Palin, and our sober view is that her running mate, Sen. John McCain, is the wrong choice for president at this critical time for our nation,” the paper said.
AP INVESTIGATION: Palin pipeline terms curbed bids
By JUSTIN PRITCHARD and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writers Justin Pritchard And Garance Burke, Associated Press Writers
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Gov. Sarah Palin’s signature accomplishment — a contract to build a 1,715-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48 — emerged from a flawed bidding process that narrowed the field to a company with ties to her administration, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Beginning at the Republican National Convention in August, the McCain-Palin ticket has touted the pipeline as an example of how it would help America achieve energy independence.
“We’re building a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline, which is North America’s largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever, to flow those sources of energy into hungry markets,” Palin said during the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate.
Despite Palin’s boast of a smart and fair bidding process, the AP found that her team crafted terms that favored only a few independent pipeline companies and ultimately benefited the winner, TransCanada Corp.
And contrary to the ballyhoo, there’s no guarantee the pipeline will ever be built; at a minimum, any project is years away, as TransCanada must first overcome major financial and regulatory hurdles.
In interviews and a review of records, the AP found:
_Instead of creating a process that would attract many potential builders, Palin slanted the terms away from an important group — the global energy giants that own the rights to the gas.
_Despite promises and legal guidance not to talk directly with potential bidders, Palin had meetings or phone calls with nearly every major candidate, including TransCanada.
_The leader of Palin’s pipeline team had been a partner at a lobbying firm where she worked on behalf of a TransCanada subsidiary. Also, that woman’s former business partner at the lobbying firm was TransCanada’s lead private lobbyist on the pipeline deal, interacting with legislators in the weeks before the vote to grant TransCanada the contract. Plus, a former TransCanada executive served as an outside consultant to Palin’s pipeline team.
_Under a different set of rules four years earlier, TransCanada had offered to build the pipeline without a state subsidy; under Palin, the company could receive a maximum $500 million.
“Governor Palin held firmly to her fundamental belief that Alaska could best serve Alaskans and the nation’s interests by pursuing a competitive approach to building a natural gas pipeline,” said McCain-Palin spokesman Taylor Griffin. “There was an open and transparent process that subjected the decision to extensive public scrutiny and due diligence.”
ONLY ONE VIABLE BIDDER
There were never more than a few players that could execute such a complex undertaking — at least a million tons of steel stretching across some of Earth’s most hostile and remote terrain.
TransCanada estimates it will cost $26 billion; Palin’s consultants estimate nearly $40 billion.
The pipeline would run from Alaska’s North Slope to Alberta in Canada; secondary supply lines would take the gas to various points in the United States and Canada. The pipeline would carry 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily, about 8 percent of the present U.S. market.
Building such a pipeline had been a dream for decades. The rising cost and demand for energy injected new urgency into the proposal.
So too did the depletion of Alaska’s long-reliable reserves of oil, which are trapped in the same Arctic Circle reservoirs as clean-burning natural gas. Not only does that oil provide jobs, it pays for an annual dividend check to nearly every Alaska resident. This year’s payment was $2,069, 25 percent higher than 2007 — plus a $1,200 bonus rebate to help offset higher energy costs.
Palin was elected as governor two years ago in part because of her populist appeal. Promising “New Energy for Alaska,” she vowed to take on Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and BP, the multinational energy companies that long dominated the state’s biggest industry.
Oil interests were particularly unpopular at that moment: Federal agents had recently raided the offices of six lawmakers in a Justice Department investigation into whether an Alaska oil services company paid bribes in exchange for promoting a new taxing formula that would ultimately further the multinationals’ pipeline plans.
Palin ousted fellow Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, who pushed a pipeline deal he negotiated in secret with the “Big Three” energy companies. That deal went nowhere.
With Alaskans eager for progress and sour on Big Oil, Palin tackled the pipeline issue with gusto, meeting with representatives from all sides and assembling her own team of experts to draw up terms.
Palin invited bidders to submit applications and offered the multimillion-dollar subsidy. Members of Palin’s team say that without the incentive, it might not have received any bids for the risky undertaking.
TIES THAT BIND
Palin’s team was led by Marty Rutherford, a widely respected energy specialist who entered the upper levels of state government nearly 20 years ago. Rutherford solidified her status when, in 2005, she joined an exodus of Department of Natural Resources staff who felt Murkowski was selling out to the oil giants.
What the Palin administration didn’t tell legislators — and neglected to mention in its announcement of Rutherford’s appointment — was that in 2003, Rutherford left public service and worked for 10 months at the Anchorage-based Jade North lobbying firm. There she did $40,200 worth of work for Foothills Pipe Lines Alaska, Inc., a subsidiary of TransCanada.
Foothills Pipe Lines Alaska Inc. paid Rutherford for expertise on topics including state legislation and funding related to gas commercialization, according to her 2003 lobbyist registration statement.
Palin has said she wasn’t bothered by that past work because it had occurred several years before. But Rutherford wouldn’t have passed her new boss’ own standards: Under ethics reforms the governor pushed through, Rutherford would have had to wait a year to jump from government service to a lobbying firm.
Rutherford also has downplayed her work for Foothills.
“I did a couple of projects for them, small projects,” she told a state Senate committee examining the TransCanada bid earlier this year. While a partner, Rutherford said, she “realized that my heart was not in the private sector, it was in the public sector, and I sold out for the same amount of money I bought in for.”
At one point, Palin’s pipeline team debated Rutherford’s role, but concluded there was no problem.
“We were looking at it in terms of is this an actual conflict or is there the appearance of impropriety of Marty’s participation,” said Pat Galvin, the commissioner of the Revenue Department and another top team member. “It was determined that there was none, and so we moved forward.”
Patricia Bielawski, Rutherford’s former partner at Jade North, spent last summer in Juneau, the state capital, serving as TransCanada’s lead private lobbyist on the pipeline deal. While the Legislature debated — and ultimately approved — the TransCanada deal, Bielawski met with lawmakers and sat in on the public proceedings, several legislators said.
Bielawski told AP earlier this month that Rutherford’s employment at her firm was irrelevant. She said Rutherford never directly lobbied the Legislature for Foothills, and that Rutherford broke no rules based on 2003 state ethics guidelines.
“There’s no statutory or regulatory prohibition that extends to things that many years ago,” Bielawski said. “So there’s no issue.”
But others say it’s a legitimate question.
“I’m not saying someone’s getting paid off for a sweetheart contract, but it’s very hard to ignore that this is your former partner and your former client standing there before you,” said Republican Sen. Lyda Green, a Palin critic who in August was among the handful of lawmakers who voted against awarding TransCanada the license. “Every time it was mentioned to the governor or to the commission, it was like, ‘How could you question such a wonderful person?'”
Tony Palmer, the TransCanada vice president who leads the company’s Alaska gas pipeline effort, rejects the suggestion that his company benefited.
“We have gained clearly no advantage from anything that Ms. Rutherford did for Foothills some five years ago on a very much unrelated topic,” he said.
Rutherford did not respond to interview requests made directly to her and through the governor’s office. But Griffin, the spokesman for the McCain-Palin campaign, said Rutherford “had no decision-making role or authority,” and contended that such matters were handled by others on the Palin pipeline team.
TransCanada also had a connection to the team hired by the Palin administration to analyze the bid. Patrick Anderson, a former TransCanada executive, served as an outside consultant and ultimately helped the state conclude that TransCanada’s technical solution for shipping gas through freezing temperatures would work.
NARROW SET OF RULES
In January 2007, Palin spoke the first of at least two times to Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush administration’s point person on energy issues, according to calendars obtained by the AP through a public records request. Cheney’s staff pressed the Palin administration to draw in the energy companies, said current and former state officials involved in those discussions.
As the governor’s approach unfolded in the spring of 2007, there were signs it was skewed in a different direction.
Palin said she saw problems if the firms that own the gas also owned the pipeline. They could manipulate the market or charge prohibitive fees to smaller exploration firms, discouraging competition.
Several important requirements in the legislation were unpalatable to the big oil companies. In the talks under Murkowski, the firms asked that the rates for the gas production tax and royalties be fixed for 45 years; Palin refused to consider setting rates for that long.
Under the Palin process, the pipeline firms had an advantage because they simply pass along taxes paid by oil and gas producers.
Oil company officials warned lawmakers they wouldn’t participate under those terms. Still, in a near unanimous vote, the Legislature passed the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act in May 2007, generally as written by Palin’s pipeline team.
Once the state issued its request for proposals on July 2, 2007, the level of communication between the government and potential bidders was supposed to decrease drastically, so that no one would be accused of gaining unfair advantage. State lawyers advised public officials to keep their distance, and bidders were told to submit questions on a Web site where answers could be seen by all.
Several of the state’s gas line team members interviewed by AP said they had no contact with possible bidders. But Palin had conversations with executives at most of the major potential bidders during that period, according to her calendars.
While the calendars don’t detail what was discussed, the documents indicate that the pipeline was the subject of the discussions, or that the conversations occurred immediately after a briefing with Palin’s pipeline team.
When she was in Michigan for a National Governors Association summit in late July 2007, Palin and her team met executives from Williams Co., a pipeline builder that ended up not bidding.
“The purpose of the meeting was to more fully understand the details of the project, which we were still evaluating at the time,” company spokeswoman Julie Gentz said in a statement.
TransCanada’s Palmer described communication with state officials as nonexistent.
According to the governor’s official schedule, however, Palin called TransCanada President and CEO Hal Kvisle on Aug. 8, 2007. Asked about that call, Palmer said it was to clarify the bidding process.
Griffin said that in keeping with legal guidance, Palin never spoke in any of the meetings about the competitive bidding process.
By the Nov. 30 submission deadline, there were five applications. But the state disqualified four for failing to satisfy the bill’s requirements.
That left TransCanada.
The Canadian giant had been pursuing an Alaska pipeline since at least 2004, when the company negotiated a deal with Rutherford that the state ended up shelving. While the details remain confidential, six people familiar with the terms told the AP that TransCanada was willing to do the work then without the large state subsidy.
In testimony this July before the state Senate, Rutherford herself confirmed such a willingness, but described the 2004 deal as presenting a different set of trade-offs. A state lawyer warned her not to say more, lest she violate a confidentiality agreement.
Others who reviewed the deal think much of the $500 million will be wasted money.
“Most definitely TransCanada got a sweetheart deal this time,” said Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, who voted against the TransCanada license. “Where else could you get a $500 million reimbursement when you don’t even have the financing to build the pipeline?”
Associated Press writer Brett J. Blackledge contributed to this report.