JUNEAU, Alaska - Gov. Sarah Palin, touted by Republican presidential nominee John McCain as a reformer when he picked her to be his running mate, says she will donate to charity more than $1,000 in campaign contributions from two Alaska politicians implicated in a federal corruption probe.
Palin said Thursday she also is giving back $1,000 from the wife of one of the men. The move came a few hours after The Associated Press reported that Palin had accepted the money during her successful 2006 run for governor. Palin was elected easily after she promised to rid Alaska's capital of dirty politics.
"Gov. Palin has made a career of holding herself to the highest standards of ethics. As soon as the governor learned of the donations today, she immediately decided to donate them to charity," campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said.
Palin took aim at gift-giving to state officials as part of her ethics agenda but has kept more than $25,000 in gifts in the 20 months she has been governor, The Washington Post reported in a story in its Friday editions. A review of state records shows that gifts came from industry executives, municipalities and a cultural center whose board includes officials from some of the largest mining interests in Alaska, according to the newspaper.
The Post reported that the 41 gifts Palin accepted included artwork, free travel, a gold-nugget pin valued at $1,200, a $2,200 ivory puffin mask, a woven grass fan worth $300 and a $150 ivory necklace. A spokeswoman for McCain's campaign said the gifts had no undue influence on Palin, according to the newspaper.
Over the years, McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama have both returned campaign donations tied to corruption.
Obama's campaign says he's given to charity $159,000 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.
The two politicians in this case were snagged in a federal investigation revolving around an oil field services company once known as VECO Corp. Executives from the company are at the center of the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that began this week in Washington.
Palin felt so strongly about the indictment of once-powerful Sen. John Cowdery that she urged him to resign. He was indicted in July on two federal bribery counts; the other donor, former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, is awaiting trial. Both are Republicans, and their contributions were to the joint campaign of Palin and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. Neither had any obvious connection to the rising star before she took office.
In the Stevens case, prosecutors say he lied on his financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts he received from VECO. In Alaska, the government has leveled more serious charges: That the company and its bosses 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 Cowdery and Weyhrauch.
The government had secretly taped 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. Weyhrauch allegedly promised to support VECO's position in exchange for consideration for future work as a lawyer.
VECO quickly came to symbolize outsized corruption in Alaska and Palin was able to capitalize: As the GOP 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, Palin's campaign had received $30 from Weyhrauch in addition to Cowdery's $1,000. Separately, Cowdery's wife, Juanita, contributed $1,000; she is not accused of any wrongdoing, but Palin is giving that money back, too.
The fact that Palin had kept Cowdery's donation was notable, given that on July 10, the day after he was indicted, the governor issued a statement asking him to "step down, for the good of the state."