When Reform Means Less Overt Fraud

A front page story in today’s Washington Post reports on Sarah Palin’s use of state per diems for nights stayed at her home and offers some details on how she used per diem expenses to pay for family airfare. There isn’t an awful amount of there there, but it could show, in light of other such developments in the press corp, that the press is finally beginning to construct a narrative exposing the so-called reformer and her running mate for what they currently are: bullshit artists.

ANCHORAGE, Sept. 8 — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business…

…She wrote some form of “Lodging — own residence” or “Lodging — Wasilla residence” more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.

A little context in Alaska state politics:

In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.

“It was quite the little scandal,” said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000. “I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam — you pay yourself to live at home,” he said.

Now, of course, this really isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of abusing taxpayer dollars — especially when cast next to former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski — but the point is that calling Sarah Palin a true reformer and fiscal conservative is like calling Barry Bonds a “health nut.” Similarly naming John McCain a maverick when he has now kowtowed almost completely to traditional Republican views simply strains credulity. Though straining credulity has never particularly bothered Republicans before, one has to hope that when the platform is personality alone, the facts will more easily expose their fraud than in the case of more recondite matters like foreign policy and supply side economics.

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