The Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said she would donate to charity more than US$1,000 (Dh3,670) in campaign contributions from two Alaska politicians who were implicated in a public corruption scandal. She's also handing back another $1,000 from the wife of one of the men. The announcement came hours after it was reported that Mrs Palin had accepted the checks soon after the FBI raided the offices of the lawmakers during her successful 2006 run for Alaska governor.
Mrs Palin was swept into office after promising voters she would rid Alaska's capital of dirty politics. "Of course, Governor Palin has made a career of holding herself to the highest standards of ethics. As soon as the governor learnt of the donations today, she immediately decided to donate them to charity," said the spokesman, Taylor Griffin. Mr Griffin said he did not know which charity would receive the money from Mrs Palin's old campaign fund, but expected the return to take place as early as today.
The two men were snagged in a federal investigation that revolves around an oil field services company once known as VECO Corp. Executives from the company remain at the centre of the trial of the Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens that began this week in Washington. Mrs Palin felt so strongly about the public corruption indictment of once-powerful Senator John Cowdery this summer that she urged him to resign - but not strongly enough to return the $1,000 he gave to help get her elected.
Mr Cowdery was indicted in July on two federal bribery counts; the other donor, former Republican Bruce Weyhrauch, is awaiting trial. The contributions to the joint campaign of Mrs Palin and Lieutenant-Governor Sean Parnell did not suggest any wrongdoing - lawmakers typically spread donations around to other candidates, and none had any obvious connection to the rising Republican star before she took office.
But they were a political liability. Over the years, both McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama have returned campaign donations tied to corruption, expressing regret in both cases. Mr Obama's campaign says he's given to charity $159,000 which was tied to convicted Chicago real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko. In the early 1990s, McCain returned $112,000 from Charles Keating, a central figure in the savings and loan crisis, after a Senate ethics inquiry. Prosecutors say Stevens lied on his financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts he received from VECO.
In Alaska, the federal government has levelled more serious charges: that the company and its bosses systematically tried to corrupt lawmakers by plying them with money or gifts in exchange for their votes. On Aug 31 2006, FBI agents searched the offices of six state lawmakers, including Mr Cowdery and Mr Weyhrauch. The government had secretly taped Mr Cowdery in a conversation that prosecutors say proved he conspired with VECO officials to bribe legislators to support changes in Alaska's oil tax structure.
Mr Weyhrauch allegedly promised to support VECO's position in exchange for consideration for future work as a lawyer. VECO quickly came to symbolise outsize corruption in Alaska and Mrs Palin was able to capitalise: As the Republican nominee for governor, she campaigned as an outsider and made a public point of saying she didn't want money from the company or its employees. By October 2006, Mrs Palin's campaign had received $30 from Mr Weyhrauch in addition to Mr Cowdery's $1,000. Separately, Mr Cowdery's wife, Juanita, contributed $1,000; she is not accused of any wrongdoing.
The fact that Mrs Palin had kept Mr Cowdery's donation was notable, given that on July 10, the day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury, the governor issued a statement asking him to "step down, for the good of the state." And a year earlier, Mrs Palin questioned whether Mr Cowdery should retain his post leading a powerful Senate committee after a government witness claimed in a VECO-related trial that he was part of the bribery scheme.
Mr Cowdery, who is not running for re-election this year, has denied wrongdoing. Mr Weyhrauch, who no longer holds office, has pleaded not guilty and his trial is pending. Messages left for both men were not returned. Mrs Palin has $49,540 in her gubernatorial campaign fund, according to the latest disclosures filed with the state. Mrs Palin also defended a widely-ridiculed remark that the close proximity of Russia to her home state of Alaska gives her foreign policy experience, explaining in an interview airing today that "we have trade missions back and forth". Mrs Palin has never visited Russia, and until last year the 44-year-old Alaska governor had never traveled outside North America. In her interview with CBS television, she did not offer any examples of having been involved in any negotiations with the Russians. Mrs Palin's foreign policy experience came up when she gave her first major interview, on Sept. 11, to ABC News. Asked what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, she said: "They're our next-door neighbours and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." The comment met with derision from Mrs Palin's critics and was turned into a punch line for a sketch on the "Saturday Night Live" comedy show featuring actress Tina Fey. Appearing as Mrs Palin, she proclaimed, "I can see Russia from my house!" * AP