Palin and Gifts: The Mining Connection
About a quarter of the 41 gifts that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has received since taking office in December 2006 have a link to one of the state's most influential mining lobbyists. That's one of the findings in a report today by The Post's James V. Grimaldi and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Among the items on the list are:
* A $2,200 ivory puffin mask from an Alaska Native Corporation called Calista, which has mining interests in southwestern part of the state.
* A $1,200 gold-nugget pin from the city of Nome and which Palin said she would keep for "personal use."
* More than $1,000 in gifts from the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
* A note apparently hand-written by Palin on an ethics form saying that the mining lobbyist, Wendy Chamberlain, had taken one of Palin's daughters on a trip.
Chamberlain has been hired by Calista and Nome as a lobbyist; several representatives of Chamberlain's clients are on the heritage center's board, including Calista, which promoted a ceremony with the governor in its newsletter.
In all, Palin's 41 gifts from mining industry executives, visiting dignitaries, municipalities and the nonprofit cultural center were worth $25,000, records show.
The list of gifts, which was compiled from ethics disclosure forms filed by the governor, provides a window into Palin's public life, which is under scrutiny since she was named Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate on the GOP ticket. The gift list touches on lobbying, public events, politics, the role of mining as a burgeoning industry in the state, as well as Alaska Native Corporations, which are increasingly involved in a wide array of endeavors in Alaska and across the country.
In an interview, Chamberlain said she did not know her clients had given the gifts, and she was also unaware that two of her mining clients had spent $1,000 to fly the governor's husband, Todd Palin, to their mines. One is the Donlin Creek Mine on Calista land.
She also said that she kept her distance from Palin, except to discuss their daughters and their budding friendship. She said she did not discuss with her one of the hottest topics in Alaska this year, Proposition 4, an issue very important to Chamberlain's mining client, the Pebble Partnership.
Environmentalists brought to the ballot Proposition 4 to limit pollution from mines going into salmon waters. The initiative was seen as a direct attack on the Pebble Mine, a massive gold-mining enterprise proposed for the lands adjacent to Bristol Bay, the world's largest spawning ground of sockeye salmon.
Chamberlain and her firm, Legislative Consultants, were given credit by lawmakers in 2006 for successfully killing legislation that would have done what Proposition 4 proposed, impose new restrictions on mines that discharge tailings and pollution into Alaska waters.
In August, the governor took sides on the initiative.
"Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 -- I vote no on that," Palin said, when asked about the measure at a press conference in August. Palin said the initiative was unnecessary because state regulators kept watch over the mines. "We're going to make sure that mines operate only safely, soundly."
After Palin spoke, her statements were used in political ads and Prop. 4 went down to defeat.
Palin supporters say Palin has carefully balanced needs of the environment against the needs of Alaskans.
Meghan Stapleton, a McCain-Palin spokesman based in Alaska and a former communications official in Palin's gubernatorial office, said: "From the moment Governor Palin took office, she made it clear she supports responsible resource development. On the issue of the possible development of Pebble Mine: this is not about whether you are for or against development because they haven't even submitted a permit, this is about process and ensuring that any company that wants to come to Alaska and develop our resources is at the very least provided the opportunity to avail themselves of the state's process."
But some critics say Palin's personal foray into the mining issue is dissonant with the image she projects as a reformer. "The tangled web here between big money and politics is really evident these days," said Rick Steiner, a marine-conservation professor at the University of Alaska who supported the environmental initiative. "Palin ran on that campaign promise and may have done some positive things in that regard, yet we see this tight relationship between her administration and very powerful industrial interests in Alaska."
A state watchdog agency has scheduled a hearing in November to determine whether the statement crossed an ethical line limiting partisan government intervention in ballot initiatves.
By The Editors |
September 26, 2008; 12:10 PM ET
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