Under FOIA

July 12, 2009

John Fund has a good article in last week’s Wall St. Journal that I think has the best take on why Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska: the harassing ethics complaints and Freedom of Information Act requests had left her office paralyzed:

Contrary to most reports, her decision had been in the works for months, accelerating recently as it became clear that controversies and endless ethics investigations were threatening to overshadow her legislative agenda. "Attacks inside Alaska and largely invisible to the national media had paralyzed her administration," someone close to the governor told me. "She was fully aware she would be branded a ‘quitter.’ She did not want to disappoint her constituents, but she was no longer able to do the job she had been elected to do. Essentially, the taxpayers were paying for Sarah to go to work every day and defend herself."

This situation developed because Alaska’s transparency laws allow anyone to file Freedom of Information Act requests. While normally useful, in the hands of political opponents FOIA requests can become a means to bog down a target in a bureaucratic quagmire, thanks to the need to comb through records and respond by a strict timetable. Similarly, ethics investigations are easily triggered and can drag on for months even if the initial complaint is flimsy. Since Ms. Palin returned to Alaska after the 2008 campaign, some 150 FOIA requests have been filed and her office has been targeted for investigation by everyone from the FBI to the Alaska legislature. Most have centered on Ms. Palin’s use of government resources, and to date have turned up little save for a few state trips that she agreed to reimburse the state for because her children had accompanied her. In the process, though, she accumulated $500,000 in legal fees in just the last nine months, and knew the bill would grow ever larger in the future.

"The Alaska ethics elves had painted such a target on Sarah’s forehead that she had begun turning down pretty much every invitation she got — even though they were pouring in every day by the dozens," a confidant of the governor’s told me. "It is not throwing in the towel. It is deciding that she was ineffective in fighting for her principles and could do more in another role."

This is more comprehensible to me than the bizarre lame-duck reason she gave in her statement on the third. Although, now I wonder if this paralysis isn’t what she meant by "lame duck" – that for the remainder of her term, the harassment would keep her from doing the job that Alaskans had elected her to do. It was also clearly keeping her from working for those causes she values.

After thinking about it, I’ve come to regard her resignation as the best thing to do in her situation, even if some take it to mean that good people can be driven out of office by vicious opposition. Unlike Fund, however, I suspect she will run in 2012 or 2016; this is a woman who can’t stand seeing a problem and not doing something about it. Rather than being driven out of office and politics, she’s flanked her critics and taken away their best weapon, and now she’s free to take her case to the "lower 48."

Do read the whole thing. Like most everything Fund writes, it’s worth it.

RELATED: Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown calls it a brilliant move.