Earlier this week the State of Alaska released 250 pounds of carefully redacted, printed emails from Sarah Palin’s time as governor, including emails from a private email address she used to circumvent public records laws, firstname.lastname@example.org. This seemed like as good a time as any to post one more article from the San Francisco Panorama. This was a profile of Andrée McLeod, a whistleblower who discovered Palin’s off-the-record email accounts to begin with. It should get you up to speed.
In July 2009, when Sarah Palin announced her resignation as the governor of Alaska, speculation about her motives ran rampant. She was running from scandal, some said; or she was running for president; or she was psychologically unbound. Palin’s resignation speech, meanwhile, offered two ostensible explanations. The first was that, since she did not intend to run again, resigning provided a way to avoid becoming a “lame duck,” a term normally applied only to officeholders whose successors have already been elected. The second explanation was that ethics complaints were costing her hundreds of thousands of dollars, and costing Alaska millions.
It’s impossible to say, of course, what actually spurred her decision. The task of running a state four thousand miles from Washington, D.C. was making her increasingly irrelevant in national politics, and the falling price of oil was threatening to plunge her state into debt. Sarah Palin’s record could only get worse. As a private citizen, she would be able to charge exorbitant speaking fees, accept gifts, and accept a $1.25 million book advance without risking conflicts of interest.
But Palin’s mention of ethics complaints was certainly more than an arbitrary cover story. Such complaints, for which Alaska maintains a unique system, played a major role in bringing Palin into office, and if they did not force her exit, her invocation of them can be seen as a parting shot to her local critics: Alaskans who took their state’s complaints process to new heights during Palin’s term.
One of those critics was Andrée McLeod. She and Palin were once comrades in reform, and collaborated on investigating officeholders for breaches in ethics. But eventually they had a falling out, and by mid-2008, months before Palin’s selection as a vice-presidential candidate, McLeod was dedicating herself to scrutinizing many of Palin’s public actions. A year later, when Palin blamed her exit on ethics complaints, McLeod was the name that came to mind for many Alaskans. McLeod had by then requested boxes and boxes of documents that might shed light on the governor’s behavior, and in them she hunted for misconduct of every stripe, from the most technical missteps to serious abuses of office. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and McLeod found more than a few of Palin’s. Some of McLeod’s discoveries wound up in the complaints she filed; some emerged as leads she gave to journalists, whose articles inspired complaints filed by other Alaskans. At the time of the resignation, McLeod had filed four complaints against Palin or her aides, and McLeod’s findings had served as evidence for at least two complaints filed by others. After the resignation, McLeod filed two more complaints of her own.
Except for one that remains pending, Palin’s personnel board, which was charged with reviewing such complaints, dismissed all of them: a charge that Palin had altered state hiring policies to allow a surveyor who had fundraised for her gubernatorial campaign to receive a job, another that Palin had inappropriately used state resources to advance her own political career, in part by announcing her vice-presidential candidacy on Alaska’s state website, allegations that two of Palin’s aides had done work for the McCain campaign while being paid by Alaskan taxpayers, and a claim that it was improper for Palin to remain governor from the presidential campaign trail. A final charge, that Palin had failed to report gifts in a timely manner, has yet to be settled. A few of these filings resulted in minor reprimands for Palin or one of her staffers, but none of them generated any official sanction. Among the stories that McLeod fed to the press, though, were her discoveries that then-Governor Palin had accepted $17,000 in travel stipends for sleeping in her own home, had spent $43,490 in taxpayer dollars on her children and husband’s air travel, and had hidden government records from the public in a private email account. These were big-ticket revelations, stories that dogged Palin during the run-up to the presidential election. McLeod took as little credit as possible—she was perturbed when the New York Times reported that they had obtained Palin’s schedule from McLeod’s document collection, rather than just reporting the schedule’s contents—but Palin and her circle understood where the stories were coming from.
In June 2009, one month before Palin’s resignation, McLeod talked about her efforts from the kitchen of her Anchorage home, a tidy half of a duplex with white, mostly bare walls. Neat, parallel stacks of papers run in rows along her dining room table. “I expect professionalism from our government,” she says. “I think that’s the crux of what I do. This is our government. It’s not theirs to do with what they will.”
Three document boxes stand against the wall: printouts of emails from Sarah Palin and her aides. “They know I’m coming,” she says. “They just don’t know what I have.”
The Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act was passed in 1998. As in most states, Alaska’s citizens can request government records, and the Alaskan government may stall or obstruct requests in a variety of ways. In Alaska, though, thanks to the Ethics Act, it’s unusually easy for citizens to lodge formal complaints against any official in the executive branch, from a clerk to the governor. The rules applied to the branch are strict: an official may not “use an official position for personal gain.” Think about that: no using state phone lines to campaign for reelection, no political favors for business partners, no stealing paper clips. These behaviors are what all Americans might expect of elected representatives—these behaviors, in other words, are ethical. The Executive Branch Ethics Act tries to align the letter of the law with ethical behavior, and what makes it unique is that citizens can enforce it.
Government naturally creates a paper trail, so odds are, if the governor has used her office inappropriately, whether in neglecting to report a gift or by deliberately breaking the law, that action is documented—and a person with the documents can call attention to it. The evidence, of course, might not convince the personnel board to take action (and the board itself is appointed by the governor’s office it is charged with monitoring), but the opportunity is there for a tenacious person to find out what his or her government is doing, and to demand an explanation.
Palin’s administration received at least twenty-one ethics complaints during her two and a half years in office, all of which the state personnel board dismissed. (The previous governor, Frank Murkowski, received only two complaints, both from Palin, which the board also dismissed.) The legal consequences of all these complaints were minimal. Palin had to pay $8,000 to compensate the state of Alaska for her $43,000 in family travel expenses, and Frank Bailey, an aide to Palin involved in hiring the surveyor, was required to receive ethics training. State records show that the cost to the state for processing the complaints was just under $300,000—not the $2 million that Palin claimed in her resignation speech.
But McLeod, and the six other individuals from across the state who filed complaints against Palin, clearly frustrated the administration. For them to be so conspicuously singled out as a cause of the governor’s resignation suggests that, whether or not their charges were legitimate, their tactics struck a chord. This is a story about how one woman with a box of public records could get so thoroughly under her governor’s skin that quitting, and being free of one relentless gadfly, seemed the only option.
McLeod moved to the United States at age eight, from Beirut, Lebanon. She is ethnically Armenian, a member of the Middle East’s Catholic minority. She grew up in Long Island, and earned her associate’s degree in electrical technology at SUNY Farmingdale. She worked as an electronics technician for years before moving to Alaska in the early 1980s, “for love.” (This is the most she will say about it.) In Alaska she bounced between various jobs, from groundskeeper to cannery worker, eventually working as an accounting clerk for the Forest Service. She settled in midtown Anchorage.
For the next ten years, McLeod worked in accounting and administrative jobs for the State of Alaska, in the Departments of Fish and Game, Transportation and Public Facilities, Education, Administration, and Health and Social Services. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She wasn’t political. She didn’t belong to a party, and she didn’t campaign for one.
That changed in 1995. McLeod decided she wanted to go to graduate school, and, inspired by Anchorage’s reindeer-sausage vendors—who do a tidy business along the tourist corridors—she decided to pay her tuition by selling falafel sandwiches out of a cart. When she attempted to open her business, though, the Municipality of Anchorage denied her a vendor’s permit. The health inspector, who happened to be her neighbor, claimed that falafel was “a potentially hazardous food.”
Incensed, McLeod led a crusade against the health department. She spoke at city council meetings. She went on conservative talk-radio shows to discuss the crushing effect of big government on small businesses. Her political career had begun.
She was not the only Alaskan delving into politics. In 1996, Sarah Palin, a thirty-two-year-old mother of two, ran for mayor of Wasilla, at that time a town of about five thousand an hour’s drive from Anchorage. She was a charming young city-council member and churchgoer. She was also extremely politically savvy, an ex-TV broadcaster who doled out the kinds of cherrypicked details that made for strong press coverage. In a carefully crafted campaign, she chipped away at three-term incumbent mayor John Stein by focusing on wedge issues like abortion. She earned an endorsement from the NRA and got donations from the Republican Party, both firsts for Wasilla politics. Her culture-war tactics were a first, too, unheard of in the Wasilla mayor’s race, which had traditionally been a friendly intramural contest in a town so small it had built its first police department less than five years earlier. Palin won, 617 votes to 413.
The next year, 1997, McLeod ran for mayor of Anchorage. She listed her occupation as “whistle-blower” on a voter-information form, and under “previous elective or appointed public offices held” she wrote: “None, which clearly shows I am not polluted by the political process.” She got 485 votes out of 61,602, placing fourth in the field of eleven candidates. In the meantime, Palin was purging Wasilla’s government of some of the previous mayor’s appointees and replacing them with people loyal to her. For this, she faced a wrongful-termination lawsuit from Irl Stambaugh, the former Wasilla chief of police. (She won.) She served as mayor until 2002, when term limits forced her out. That year, McLeod and Palin both ran for office again. McLeod ran for state legislature in District 24, a diverse section of midtown Anchorage where the major highways intersect. She ran as a non-partisan, against a Democrat and a Republican. Palin ran for lieutenant governor.
On election night, both McLeod and Palin attended Election Central, the results-watching party held at Anchorage’s Egan Convention Center. The crowd was celebrating a rash of Republican victories. Palin had already lost a close race in the primary. By late in the evening, McLeod learned that she had lost, too.
In the days after the election, McLeod called Palin on the phone. She offered the usual post-election pleasantries about well-run campaigns. The two became friends. “I thought she was the cat’s meow,” says McLeod. “There she was, her sassy self. I thought she was something. There’s this web that she just weaves.”
The new governor, Republican and former U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, hired both women. McLeod became manager of the Alaska Workforce Investment Board, working under the executive director in a fairly highranking position that involved coordinating job training for Alaskans. Palin was appointed chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC), a regulatory body that oversees natural-resource development. It was a good political position—the salary was $125,000, and Palin had a chance to build contacts and experience without stepping on toes.
Murkowski also appointed Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, to the AOGCC. This meant that Ruedrich was now regulating an industry from which he fundraised. Democrats cried foul. Palin, as the ethics coordinator, received several complaints from within the AOGCC about Ruedrich working for the party on state time and cheerleading for Evergreen, a company that had proposed controversial shallow gas drilling in Palin’s home region.
She feared she was losing credibility in Wasilla over Ruedrich’s transparent support for the plan, and she complained to McLeod about what she was seeing. McLeod told her to do something about it.
On November 8, 2003, Ruedrich resigned from the commission. The Anchorage Daily News had reported that he had sent Republican Party emails from the computer at his state job. The attorney general opened an investigation.
Palin faced a difficult choice. In Alaska, no smart politician challenges the Republican elite. Campaign money would become a gamble, endorsements harder to come by. She decided that didn’t matter.
“She was a maverick from the word ‘go,’” says Harry Crawford, a Democrat who worked with her in the state house. “Sarah didn’t care in the least about the Republican Party.”
Palin submitted her own resignation to the AOGCC, quietly and without explanation, on January 6, 2004. This meant that she could speak publicly about her AOGCC misgivings without breaching confidentiality rules. As the government investigation into Ruedrich grew, Palin became increasingly outspoken, at one point announcing that if there was no open investigation into Ruedrich’s actions in ten days, she would explain why she resigned. Ruedrich had already agreed to an open investigation at the time. Palin eventually gave a series of interviews in which she described what she knew about Ruedrich’s conflicts of interest, including an incident in which he’d billed his travel expenses for a Republican fundraiser to Alaskan taxpayers.
All the while, McLeod was feeding Palin facts. “[Palin] didn’t know how to go about it,” McLeod said last year to the National, a United Arab Emirates newspaper. “I would guide. There was a role I played in the background, making sure all the information was correct.”
Palin, an avid listener of political shows, began to take McLeod’s research to talk radio. If the conversation was about her, she’d call in. In an email to McLeod, she wrote:
Did you hear us talking about you on the Mike Pocaro [sic] show Monday evening?! It was a hoot! He was impressed with your efforts… I called in to say “Kudos to Andree… she’s obviously got tireless energy and desire to keep government and government officials accountable to Alaskans… we need more ‘Andrees’ in this state…” the show went on with you as the highlight for callers! It was awesome. Ya’ done good again!!!
In the end, Ruedrich admitted to engaging in partisan activity from his office and disclosing a confidential legal document to oil and gas lobbyists. He received a record $12,000 fine, and Palin became a hero. “It was a courageous thing for [Palin] to do at the time,” says Eric Croft, a Democratic lawmaker. “Conventional wisdom was, she should have bided her time on the AOGCC and played nice until it was her turn to run.”
McLeod ran for District 24’s seat again in 2004, this time as the lone Republican. Palin endorsed McLeod, writing in her campaign flyer, “Like many of us, Andrée wants good government. Though she ruffles a feather or two now and then, this intelligent Alaskan is exactly what we need during these times.” Ruedrich, not knowing about her involvement in his downfall, gave her the support of the Republican Party and their donors.
“The media were stunned,” he says now. It was then that he finally understood that McLeod “had been the focal point of the mysterious allegations against me.” But he wasn’t going to let personal differences get in the way of winning an election.
With the Republican money, McLeod ran a close race, though she ultimately lost to the Democratic candidate, Berta Gardner, 2,900 votes to 3,169.
Palin, still unemployed, stayed in the public eye by doing commercials for a building-supply company, a public-service announcement about cooking safety, and another ad in support of a gas-pipeline proposal that competed with Governor Murkowski’s plan. Then, in 2006, on the strength of six years as mayor of Wasilla and one year on the AOGCC, she stepped into the Republican primary for governor.
Among political circles, Palin had a reputation for valuing loyalty—and for culling her allies without pause. “She did not react well to criticism,” says Republican staffer Larry Persily. “She really believes she’s doing the right thing, and when she feels her motives are being questioned, she reacts.”
“Her temper is swift and sure,” says Harry Crawford, the Democratic legislator who worked with Palin. “She didn’t seem to dwell on anger, but the punishment would be meted very quickly.”
McLeod puts it differently. “People think Sarah Palin is vindictive. That’s not true. But she’ll drop you without a second thought. The moment she has no more use for you, she cuts you loose.”
So McLeod knew what she was risking when she decided to campaign for her boss, Governor Murkowski, in the primary, even though Palin, by then, was the clear frontrunner. Whatever her feelings about Palin, McLeod believed that Murkowski had the only viable plan for a gas pipeline.
When Palin won the primary, though, McLeod joined her campaign for the general election. “Like a good Republican, I supported the Republican candidate,” McLeod says. She donated $1,000 to Palin, but she stopped short of offering all the help Palin asked her for. “I have a certain skill set,” McLeod says. “She asked me to do a couple of things for her. I attempted to follow through, but it smelled fishy.” She refuses to elaborate on the nature of the request.
Palin won the 2006 governor’s race with 48 percent of the vote. Appointed state employees at McLeod’s level were given a list of open positions and asked to apply. McLeod applied for a job she liked—she now says she’s forgotten what the position was—and crossed her fingers.
Meanwhile, Palin began gathering her trusted friends from Wasilla to work at the highest levels of state government. Kris Perry, sometimes referred to as Palin’s best friend, was hired as an aide. Palin also hired John Bitney and Joe Austerman, other old Wasilla hands. A friend she hired as the head of the State Division of Agriculture was a former real-estate agent who cited on her resume a childhood love of cows. McLeod was replaced at the Workforce Investment Board, and was not hired elsewhere.
“I think after the election, Andrée kind of had hoped for a job,” says Andrew Halcro, a former Republican legislator who has become a friend of McLeod’s and a rival of Palin’s. “God knows Sarah gave enough jobs to her friends. Unlike others who were appointed, Andrée had actual government experience. Palin stiff-armed her.”
Palin took office in December 2006. Finding herself on the outside of the administration, McLeod did part-time clerical work. But rumors that the governor’s office was campaigning, on state time, for the ouster of the Alaska Republican Party chair—who was, in fact, still Randy Ruedrich, Palin’s old rival—gradually brought McLeod back around to her pursuit of those in public office.
In May 2008, a conservative newspaper column accused Palin of using state computers and phones for partisan purposes—of acting, in other words, in the same objectionable manner as Ruedrich had. McLeod filed a records request; unbeknownst to her, so did Zane Henning, a Wasilla schoolmate of Palin’s. (McLeod and Henning met as a result, and became friends.) Working individually, they discovered little on the partisanship front, but they did find something far more damning. Sarah Palin was keeping state records in a private email account.
The account, email@example.com, was one of Palin’s main modes of communication, and her high-level staff had set up similar shadow accounts, away from public scrutiny.
This struck McLeod as highly hypocritical. When she was an outsider, Palin had scalped prominent Republicans by using their own email records. (In 2005, a little more than a year after the AOGCC affair, Palin co-filed an ethics complaint that prompted the resignation of Attorney General Greg Renkes, whose emails showed that he had been trading stock in KFx, a “clean coal” company, while negotiating a coal-export deal that would require KFx’s technology.) As governor, though, Palin was burying her records where McLeod couldn’t find them.
“We have enough government secrets,” she says. “We don’t need a secret government. There’s a reason for all these protocols. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel… As a state worker, it’s the most inane thing I’ve ever heard, to conduct state business in the dark. But the more we look into it, the more it looks intentionally done to circumvent the public-records process. They’ve got something to hide.”
In the fall of 2008, McLeod decided to sue Palin to release the secret emails, and the case began a slow series of judgments in appeals. (Recently, the Alaskan courts have ruled that state officials’ emails relating to government business should be preserved, no matter where they are stored, but that Palin did nothing wrong by maintaining a private account.) By then, McLeod had already begun to request Palin’s travel forms and gift disclosures monthly.
Palin, meanwhile, was facing other problems. On July 11, 2008, she fired Walt Monegan, Alaska’s commissioner of public safety. The dismissal was soon surrounded by allegations that Palin had gone after Monegan because he had refused to fire a state trooper who was in a child-custody battle with Palin’s sister. The legislature opened an investigation. Palin promised to cooperate, but many of the documents the investigators requested were hidden on her private email account, out of reach. Palin’s approval ratings, mostly based on her reputation as a reformer, were hovering around 85 percent when Troopergate, as it was soon called, began. McLeod, following the story, felt like Alaskans were being duped.
“When she took office,” McLeod says, “Sarah Palin asked all Alaskans to hold her accountable. There are people who took her up on that offer.”
The idea behind open-records laws, or Sunshine Laws, is simple: in a democracy, citizens run the country. To run it well, they need to know what their representatives are doing. “Public-records laws are the mechanism for citizens to find out the inner workings of their governments,” says McLeod.
But these laws vary widely from state to state. In some cases, even when legislation demanding transparency is in place, a loophole can render it ineffective. In Alabama, citizens can so easily access public records from the governor’s office that the University of Florida Citizen Access Project ranks the state as tied for first for accessibility. However, that accessibility is undercut by Alabama’s redaction policies—the state ranks last for redaction laws, and nothing prevents a governor’s office compelled to turn over materials from blacking out entire documents.
When it comes to Sunshine Laws, Alaska is a mixed bag. Though it’s ranked in the middle of the pack by the Citizen Access Project, Alaskan law requires only that government agencies hand over requested information in a vaguely worded “timely manner.” Alaska law also fails to specify what the government can charge for copying documents. During the 2008 election, Palin’s camp asked the Associated Press to pay $15 million to process a collection of emails, not including photocopying. “The whole process is stacked against citizens,” says Andrew Halcro, the former Republican legislator. Even when a citizen can obtain government records, it takes a skilled reader to interpret what documents mean, and which ones matter. Often, government whistleblowers are insiders or former insiders; they’re the only ones who know where the bodies are buried. Andrée McLeod knew where to look for ethics violations in part because she knew how government worked.
McLeod filed her first ethics complaint against Palin on August 6, 2008, a few months before launching her emails lawsuit and just weeks after Troopergate began. McLeod claimed that state emails she had successfully requested over the summer showed that Palin had inappropriately hired a surveyor who had been one of her campaign’s donors.
The surveyor, Tom Lamal, hadn’t met the minimum requirements for new hires, but after Frank Bailey, a Palin aide, inquired about Lamal’s job application, the state changed the requirements so that Lamal was eligible. “This was a long battle, but Kevin [Brooks] pushed it through the roadblocks to get Tom Lamal hired into a classified position in FAI with DOT,” Bailey wrote in the email McLeod uncovered. He later wrote to Lamal, “Well now you’re [sic] foot’s back in the door and maybe we can tap you for other things. I’d definitely love to stop over for dinner next time I’m up there.”
McLeod’s complaint was public, so Palin hit back in public. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News on the day McLeod’s complaint was filed, Palin said that “This is the same Andrée McLeod that follows us around at public events and camps herself out in our waiting area and hounds us for a job, asking us if there’s a way she can go around Workplace Alaska and not have to go through the system to get a job with this administration.” According to Palin, McLeod had asked to be director of APOC, Alaska’s ethics-regulating body. She also referred to McLeod as “the falafel lady.” The game was on.
McLeod soon found more information on the travel forms. Because the official governor’s residence is in Juneau, Alaska’s capital, the state considered Palin to be traveling every night she stayed elsewhere. But Palin didn’t spend much time in the governor’s mansion; instead, she worked from state offices in Anchorage. In her first nineteen months in office, she charged the state $60 a day for 312 days in Wasilla, or 55 percent of her time as governor. McLeod received the relevant documents on August 14; she passed the information to several of her talk-radio contacts to get the word out, but the story didn’t really break. The Anchorage Daily News didn’t report it. The Troopergate investigation was coming along. No one was very excited about McLeod’s travel-expenses discovery. Then, on August 29, John McCain picked Palin as his running mate.
Within a day of Palin’s selection, Alaska was crawling with reporters. When journalists tried to find a dissenting voice who would discuss Sarah Palin, locals referred them to McLeod. Reporter after reporter called her up. They came to her house and asked for quotes to balance out the pro-Palin voices, or to unearth leads. Karl Vick, a reporter from the Washington Post, hung around one night. “You got anything else?” he asked. McLeod pulled out the travel documents.
“That stopped me short,” Vick says now. “I knew that was good, because it was immediately understandable.” They drove to Kinko’s to photocopy the evidence, and the Post broke the story: Sarah Palin had been charging the state for her children’s travel (another McLeod discovery) and collecting a per-diem travel allowance for sleeping in her own bed. Palin quickly countered that her yearly travel expenses were lower than those of the two governors before her.
It was now September, and Troopergate was threatening to undercut Palin’s branding as an honest outsider fighting “politics as usual.” McCain’s team sent in a “truth squad” to squelch rumors. On September 1, having denounced the bipartisan state-senate investigation, Palin filed an ethics complaint relating to Troopergate against herself. The idea was to preempt the original inquiry—the state’s personnel board would now take up the case, and Palin’s lawyer argued that the senate investigation should be dropped to allow the board to pursue it. The state senators demurred.
On October 15, the bipartisan investigation released its report, which found that Palin had abused her power in pressuring Monegan, but that the firing was lawful. A few weeks later, the personnel board cleared her of all wrongdoing, but noted that they had failed to obtain important evidence—Palin had withheld many relevant emails in her private account. The board’s report stated that “Efforts to locate and secure all relevant emails have been exceedingly difficult in this case… In particular, the Governor and Frank Bailey conducted government business on private accounts.” Neither investigation resulted in tangible punishment.
As the presidential campaign went on, scandals kept sprouting up: a hacker opened Palin’s Yahoo! account by answering a series of personal-password reminder questions, which he had solved by scouring the news. Details emerged about the divorce and home life of Monegan, and confidential information leaked from the employment file of the trooper Monegan had refused to fire on Palin’s behalf. (This led to two more ethics complaints from police agencies.) Meanwhile, Palin included a line in her stump speech about Bill Ayers, who had been on the same anti-poverty foundation board as Barack Obama six years ago. No one’s closet seemed clean enough.
On November 3, the day before the election, the APOC verdict came back for McLeod’s first complaint. It was dismissed, but Frank Bailey, Palin’s aide who had helped hire the surveyor, would have to take ethics training. McCain and Palin lost the election.
Palin was named in several more complaints in the months following. After the new year, McLeod wrote three herself. Two of her complaints alleged that Palin’s aides had been doing partisan work on the taxpayer dime; the other argued that Palin herself had used state resources while on the campaign. The documents are a testament to McLeod’s stubbornness. One page, in support of McLeod’s contention that Palin aide Kris Perry had neglected to request leave for a trip to the Republican Governor’s Association conference in Florida, proved that Perry had been absent without notice by including a screenshot from the seventh page of a photo search on celebuzz.com. It showed Palin and Perry sitting poolside at the conference, drinking wine. McLeod also cited the use of the Alaska state website to announce Palin’s candidacy as an improper use of state resources for partisan gain. All three complaints were dismissed several months later.
On April 22, Anchorage resident Sondra Tompkins filed an ethics complaint alleging that Palin’s fundraising for her Political Action Committee, a fairly common act for politicians, put her “in conflict with the performance of official duties.” The next morning, Palin’s office published a press release quoting the governor’s chief of staff, Mike Nizich: “I hope that the publicity-seekers will face a backlash from Alaskans who have a sense of fair play and proportion. I served six previous governors, and I’ve never seen anything like the attacks against Governor Palin.” McLeod, meanwhile, spent April 23 at an Alaska Public Offices Commission meeting, raising concerns about Sarah Palin’s gift-disclosure forms. She wanted to know why certain items appeared to have been omitted—specifically, the much-discussed $150,000 in free clothes.
McLeod had already seen her share of backlash. She got phone calls telling her to shut up. She was attacked in the press, on the radio, and in blogs. A conservative radio host followed her around for an ambush interview.
“It takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of guts to do what Andrée’s done,” says Andrew Halcro. “You should see the emails I get through my blog from some of these people. They are absolutely brutal. These folks would kill for Palin.”
McLeod called the editors of the Anchorage Daily News after anonymous comments on their website joked about harming her. The Daily News told her she was now a “controversial public figure,” just like Sarah Palin, and they would only remove the comments in extreme cases.
A few days later, news from the personnel-board hearings, which are normally closed-door affairs, leaked out: an investigator had found that the Alaska Trust Fund—Palin’s legal-defense fund, the subject of yet another ethics complaint—might indeed violate Alaska law, because Palin was using her prominence as a governor to collect money. But the investigator’s report ended with a recommendation for “corrective action to resolve this matter without a formal hearing.”
On July 3, 2009, McLeod settled into her armchair at home to watch a press conference Palin had called that day. Twelve minutes in, Palin announced that she would resign. Andrée’s phone, an antiquated white landline, began ringing non-stop. Palin had whipped up a media storm and deposited it at McLeod’s door.
“Do I believe what she said? Hell no,” McLeod says. “She’s gonna save the state money? Hell no. She could just try being ethical. That would save the state a lot of money.”
Palin would remain governor for only a few more weeks, but McLeod was determined not to give her a free pass. She submitted a gift-reports complaint she had been preparing, as well as a complaint arguing that Palin should have stepped down as governor during the campaign. The campaign complaint was dismissed; the gifts-report complaint is pending, though after a public spat with the personnel board (one member told McLeod to “just keep bitching,” and said that she was on a “personal vendetta”), its chances don’t look good. Meanwhile, on July 20, an anonymous poster on the Conservatives4Palin website wrote, “I would like Andrée’s age, weight, and height. Her marital status and living arrangements would also be appreciated. Can someone get on that? Information is a two-way street. I need to learn about my prey.”
Now that Palin has left office, McLeod is already thinking ahead. “I hope [new governor] Sean Parnell uses state email accounts,” she says. “I hope he puts out an administrative order that prohibits the use of private email accounts for official state business.”
Parnell did, in fact, order his employees not to conduct state business over private emails. While there was plenty of debate about the merit of McLeod’s complaints, the discovery of Palin’s Yahoo! email records gratified even McLeod’s skeptics. “Some of her complaints may be frivolous,” says Harry Crawford, “but God bless Andrée McLeod.” State records, he said, are absolutely vital.
Andrew Halcro echoes that sentiment. “Andrée’s doing exactly what any responsible citizen should do, and that’s keep a damn close eye on the government,” he says. “You can disagree with some of the complaints, but Andrée’s doing what any citizen should do.”
McLeod, for her part, has not let Palin’s departure distract her from her work. At the time of this writing, she was preparing to file three new ethics complaints against the current administration, and was helping a friend write a fourth.