Gov. Sarah Palin swept into office as an avowed outsider, a claim that helped her land the GOP vice presidential nomination.
The woman touted by Republican nominee John McCain as a reformer said late Thursday that she will donate to charity more than $1,000 in campaign contributions from two Alaska politicians implicated in a sprawling federal corruption probe. Palin is also 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. Two months later, Palin was elected easily after she promised to rid Alaska’s capital of dirty politics.
"Governor 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.
The money could be returned as early as Friday, Griffin said.
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."
Justin Pritchard reported from Anchorage, Alaska. Associated Press writer Sharon Theimer in Washington contributed to this report.