The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict of Interest

In Sarah Palin's introductory speech, she made a passing reference to her husband's background:

And then we have as -- after my husband, who is a lifelong commercial fisherman, lifetime Alaskan -- he's a production operator. Todd is a production operator in the oil fields up on Alaska's North Slope, and he's a proud member of the United Steelworkers Union, and he's a world champion snow machine racer.

While it's interesting that Mr. Palin, often referred to by Sarah Palin as the "First Dude," races snow machines, it's that production operator gig that I'm most interested in.

Mr. Palin spent the better part of the last two decades working for British Petroleum, an entity that is significantly impacted by the work of Mr. Palin's wife, the nearly 21-month Governor of Alaska.  Mr. Palin was a production supervisor with BP, which became involved with negotiations over the natural gas pipeline with Governor Palin.

Shortly after Mrs. Palin's election, Mr. Palin took a leave of absence from BP specifically to avoid a conflict of interest between his job at BP and his personal life as the Governor's husband.  But that desire to avoid a conflict of interest didn't last long:

A decision by Alaska's first family is raising concerns about a possible conflict of interest involving Gov. Sarah Palin and the oil industry.

The governor's husband, Todd Palin, is back on BP's payroll. Gov. Palin says his return will not influence her decisions involving the oil industry, but one former lawmaker who wrote an ethics guideline for the administration believes it's a bad move at the wrong time. ...

The governor has called a special session of the Legislature to possibly rewrite the Petroleum Profits Tax. Her proposals could have a multi-million dollar impact on her husband's employer. BP could also become a major player in the natural gas line project.

But the Palins argued that, because the role Mr. Palin returned to wasn't directly in management, there wasn't a conflict of interest, despite the major financial decisions being negotiated between Mr. Palin's company and Mrs. Palin's administration:

"A conflict could be perceived if my spouse's position was in a management position with an oil company. But, because it's a blue-collar, in-the-field type job, working in a facility as a production operator, separating the oil, the gas and water; it's not a management position where decision are being made for the future of investment with this oil company in Alaska. So, it hasn't been perceived, on our part anyway, as a conflict of interest," Gov. Palin said.

Still, the very existence of the perception of impropriety and a conflict of interest is what unsettles those seeking to hold a self-described reformer like Mrs. Palin to a higher standard:

[Democratic] Former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz co-authored the "Ethics White Paper" with [Republican] former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea at the request of the governor shortly after she took office. He doesn't agree with Mr. Palin's decision to go back to work.

"It's bad timing. It's a tough situation for the family, but I think the interests of the state have to come first," Berkowitz said. "In the interest of the state, you need to make sure you're above the appearance of impropriety."

He said Todd Palin's employment with a major North Slope producer could raise questions and problems.

"The short version is, I think this adds an unnecessary, complicating variable to a very complex situation. Going through a revision of the oil and gas tax is going to be difficult enough as it is and you want as few distractions as possible. This will amount to a distraction," Berkowitz said.

Further, there is a very big question mark as to what role Mr. Palin has really played with BP since returning to work, as KTUU's Capitol bureau chief Bill McAllister reports:

There's an interesting mix of comments from Republicans on this. One legislator called me today to say that Todd actually was involved in the legislative process last year, and referred me to two colleagues. But in talking with those two legislators, there was no indication of the sort. Each reported one instance in which the First Dude was present at a meeting, but in one case so were the couple's children, and in the other, he reportedly didn't say anything. Sharon Leighow, the governor's deputy press secretary, says Todd played absolutely no role in any legislative business last session.

So we already have a conflict.  Mrs. Palin argued that Mr. Palin's job did not represent a conflict of interest because the job Mr. Palin returned to was an "in-the-field type job." Yet Republican state legislators confirm that Mr. Palin attended legislative meetings (ostensibly held in an office and not "in the field"), though Mr. Palin reportedly "didn't say anything." I'm sure that the Governor's spouse, also a two-decade BP employee, sitting quietly in the corner didn't draw any attention.

Now, was there a conflict of interest?  I hope not.  And I don't immediately think so.  But was there the perception of a conflict of interest - the perception of impropriety?  Absolutely.  Mr. Palin left his employ at BP to avoid a conflict, and then returned, and reportedly sat in on legislative meetings between BP and state legislators.

Given that McCain-Palin's slogan is "Country First: Reform-Prosperity-Peace," I think that Mrs. Palin needs to hold her family's professional transparency to a higher standard.

The Palins should immediately release a list of every meeting that Mr. Palin attended after returning to work that was also attended by officials in the Alaskan Government, as well as the agendas of those meetings.  Confirm for the voters that Mr. Palin's role with BP while BP conducted negotiations with Mrs. Palin's administration really did not represent a conflict of interest.  Further, Mr. Palin ought to release a job description of his role when he took the leave of absence specifically to avoid a conflict of interest, as well as a job description of the role he returned to, so we could better understand how they differed and why it all of a sudden did not represent a conflict of interest.

Even Mr. Palin's rationale for returning to work doesn't immediately pass the smell test:

Todd Palin said the family needs the extra income.

"I mean, we're still fairly young and we've got kids going into college. Some governors and their spouses, I'm sure, are independently wealthy, but we're not one of those couples. So we have to watch out for our kids' future," Mr. Palin said.

Why does that not immediately pass the smell test?

In case you were wondering, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin owns three homes -- one is her family's main residence and the other two are for recreation, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Further, the Governor of Alaska pulls down a six-figure salary.  Now, I admit that I don't know the average Alaskan family's cost of living.  And, while a family with a six-figure salary, one main residence, and two "recreational" residences might just be considered poor by John McCain's count, I don't imagine that the Palins were too terribly hard up for cash.  At the very least, selling one of their two purely "recreational" residences would have been a more appropriate option to Mr. Palin taking a job with the potential for such a conflict of interest.  Perhaps Mr. Palin could have sought employ with a company that didn't do such high profile business with the state of Alaska and the Palin Administration.  Or Mr. Palin could have tried to expand that "commercial fisherman" business that Mrs. Palin repeatedly references.  That is, of course, as long as the Palins put Alaska first the same way that McCain-Palin claims to want to put "Country First."

I look forward to the Palins disclosing the information about Mr. Palin's quiet sit-ins on legislative business between BP and the Alaskan state government, that is, if the Palins care to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.

Tags: appearance of impropriety, Big Oil, Conflict of Interest, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Todd Palin (all tags)

Comments

24 Comments

Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

The legislative meetings issue is valid, but avoid the income issue. A temporary $125K for Sarah is only moderate when you have four kids to put through college and another one who will need more expensive attention. If I was Todd I would insist on working.

by JoeFelice 2008-08-30 10:58PM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

Sticking up for McPalin? There's too much of that going on for my tastes.

To hell with unilateral disarmament. Don't avoid ANY potential issue with the Rethugs. Keep them on their heels and let them deny and explain or not as they wish. It's that much less media time they'll have to smear Obama.

by Obama44 2008-08-30 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

It's not cowardice, it's triage. And thanks for the 2 troll ratings whoever did that.

by JoeFelice 2008-08-31 12:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

I don't do TRs since it just amounts to official name calling. If I call someone a McTroll it's to their face. Somebody uprated your comment from hide, giving it a net value of 1.00.

I said nothing about cowardice. I chose not to speculate at this time on why you prefer giving McPalin a pass on anything.

One thing's for sure. There aren't going to be any comments at the GOP blogs calling for McSmear to go easy on Obama in any regard.

by Obama44 2008-08-31 12:50AM | 0 recs
Sarah Superstar

The real import of the Palin selection:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/2008083 1/pl_politico/13016

by oliver777 2008-08-31 05:15AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin

HI Joe,

Dont worry about Obama44 he is you classic BO internet Blog bully who goes around attacking anyone who doesnt totally agree with him.

It is not enough to be a democrat or support democrats to him you have to completely agree with him or you are a troll. Or worse a McTroll. Dont lose sleep over people like that.

And i agree this is not a scandel and Dems are making a mistake trying to smear Palin and if they are not careful there will be a backlash.  Personally i think democrats have a higher standard to live up to the Republicans but clearly some just dont agree and thank we should hang in the gutter because they do.  I guess i just dont agree.

best  david

by giusd 2008-08-31 05:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin

Hr'd for a personal attack along the stupid old primary nonsense.

It's time to hold those who support McBush accountable rather than attack those who support the Democratic nominee Obama.

by Obama44 2008-08-31 09:54AM | 0 recs
Who chose Sara Palin?

This piece by Tristan Snell at Open Left is worth taking a look at:

   Who chose Palin?

   Well, it certainly wasn't John McCain.

   McCain only met Palin once, six months ago. Unlike every other major party VP nominee in recent memory, Palin did not meet McCain for a final interview before her selection.

   A few weeks ago, she wasn't in the running at all. The scandals and unorthodoxies involving Palin -- she flip-flopped on the Bridge to Nowhere and even raised sales taxes on her small town to pay for an overpriced boondoggle -- show that the McCain campaign didn't vet her.

   The McCains and Palins looked visibly awkward together, not even speaking as they went their separate ways on a brief shopping trip in Ohio yesterday.

   McCain is on record as saying he wanted a running mate with whom he had a strong personal relationship -- and who was ready to be president.

   This was clearly not his pick. So again: Who chose Palin?

   Was it Dick Cheney? Or Karl Rove? Or maybe James Dobson?

http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?dia ryId=7846

by cChalfonte 2008-08-31 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

I find it bizarre that you "don't do troll ratings," but you gave the post a hide rating simply because you disagree, which is much worse.

People are allowed to make judgments on which lines of attack they believe are effective and ineffective without having their loyalty questioned.

by Steve M 2008-08-31 05:08AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

Any comment which defends any Rethug should get an HR.

The "troll" rating is a stupid waste of time.

by Obama44 2008-08-31 09:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

This remark didn't deserve a hiderating.

by duende 2008-08-31 05:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Potential Big Oil Conflict

Uprated for rating abuse.

As I said about the topic of whether or not she was good mother, there are very, very good things to slam Palin on, what she makes as Governor is not one of them.

by JENKINS 2008-08-31 01:27AM | 0 recs
by linkpagina 2008-08-31 02:27AM | 0 recs
Let the guy work

I've agreed with most of the McCain-Palin criticism, but not this one.  The guy can't be expected to sit around all day.  That's what he does, oil production manager.  Let him work.

The conflict of interest issue seems like a local issue to me.  If its ok with Alaskan voters (and it probably is, cause they love their oil revenue), then that's what really matters.

Also, WRT to their "three houses", do you know anything about their two recreation houses, where they are, how big they are, how much they are worth?  This is Alaska, where you can throw up a shack in the middle of the woods for next to nothing.  You might want to find out a little more before you harp on that point.

by Alan 2008-08-31 02:27AM | 0 recs
He is not even in the management!

by indydem99 2008-08-31 03:41AM | 0 recs
Re: He is not even in the management!

ha.  How'd I know YOU would come along to stick up for them.  Go back to redstate.

by lojasmo 2008-08-31 04:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Let the guy work

You're correct. We don't know anything about those houses. The problem is, we don't know anything about these people. Don't you think we should find out?

by msw4477 2008-08-31 05:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Let the guy work

Yes, of course we should find out everything there is to know about these people. But we should resist the temptation to lash out at every opportunity over every little thing.

If it turns out that they own three mansions, well that would be something to talk about. If it turns out that their recreation homes are hunting shacks in the woods, well, it could make us look pretty silly, don't you think?

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Palin, and plenty of ammunition with which to go after her. We really don't need to make up new stuff.

by NJ Liberal 2008-08-31 05:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Let the guy work

Let them use their time explaining it. It's that much less time they'll have to attack Obama on frivolous smears.

Don't do McBush's work for him.

by Obama44 2008-08-31 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Let the guy work

I think the person who HRed this post has been booted or something, because the rating shows up as 0.00/0. I uprated just in case that would hide the thread for some readers. There is no way in the world that this post deserved an HR.

by itsthemedia 2008-08-31 10:21PM | 0 recs
Palin's conflicted family

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics /republican_race/2008/08/30/2008-08-30_s arah_palins_motherinlaw_uncertain_about. html

Aside from this.

She scares me.  McCain does now too.  I'm starting to feel the way I did during those Cold War elections of my childhood when the "finger on the button" issues scared us all to death.  I don't think this is a rational ticket.

by mady 2008-08-31 05:53AM | 0 recs
Re: The Palin Family's Conflict

This is Really simple:

Obama carefully vetted his selections in private long before he chose Joe Biden.  He also chose a very public person familiar and respected by the MSM.

McCain, shooting from the hip, quickly chooses an unknown, yet to be deeply vetted (their own campaign quietly admits this), and untested in the national forum.

For McCain, all vetting will be terribly public, and any appearance of impropriety, with or without basis, will be that much more damming to the candidate who is running as an 'honest reformer'.

Yup, I think McCain has 'screwed the pooch' on this one. I do now wish that there were more Vice Presidential debates, it's gonna be fun to watch.  

by NvDem 2008-08-31 07:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Homes

Best part of that post is the 3 Homes. Allows us to revive the "How Many Homes Does John McCain Own?" narrative. If they try to portray Palin as being subsistence-level or some other BS to defuse it, we can point out that while 3 is less than 11, its far more than the fraction of a home Most Americans own.

by Beomoose 2008-08-31 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Homes

Well, at least she knows how many homes she has. That's good, isn't it?  ;-)

by itsthemedia 2008-08-31 10:30PM | 0 recs

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