Questions for Palin

Watching video footage of Trump and Palin eating pizza earlier this week, the joke was really on us. There they sat, likely sharing a laugh about the media scrum outside and the ease of getting a headline. 

It would be wishful thinking to suggest it’s long past time to stop giving Palin more serious attention than she deserves. So if we must continue — and it seems we must — let’s at least ask one of the most relevant questions someone with a history of ethics troubles should answer: Is it legal for SarahPAC to pay for the Palin family vacation? Palin has been emphatic, repeatedly saying it’s not a campaign trip, not a prospective campaign trip, not a political trip, not a “publicity-seeking tour,” just a family vacation.

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Four days into her free media tour, reporters finally started to inquire. Not surprisingly, Palin’s response referred reporters to her political action committee’s (PAC) website, deflecting with her usual verbal gymnastics: “I don’t know why in the world you would ask a question like that. I’m just thinking about America and our foundations and our freedoms and our opportunities.” There is no mention of trip costs — the elaborate bus wrap, staffing, hotels, meals, gas, etc. — on the site. There is, however, a nice green button soliciting donations for the family vacation.

In fact, reporters and supporters alike are directed to the SarahPAC website for information and updates, which describe the vacation as “a new campaign to educate and energize Americans about our nation’s founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America.” 

Palin’s history of abuse and conspicuous commingling of personal and political funds raise a few red flags. Who can forget the $150,000 shopping spree, compliments of the Republican National Committee, on clothing, hair and makeup for Palin and her family? Nor is it the first time Palin has attempted to use public funds for private family trips. As governor, Palin charged $20,000 to the state of Alaska to have her children travel with her, even to events they weren’t invited to, including expenses for hotels and flights to watch their Todd Palin in a snowmobile race, which was later re-categorized as “professional business.”

Some reports suggest that paying for the family vacation with SarahPAC funds does not violate campaign finance laws because it is an “unconnected PAC.” But SarahPAC promotes itself as supporting political candidates and the future of the Republican Party. Donors therefore have every reason to believe their contributions are supporting political activity — like a “campaign” to educate and energize — and candidates.  

Given that Palin has so emphatically stated that this personal family vacation is not related to any political purpose, is it criminally fraudulent — federally punishable as mail or wire fraud — if the PAC funds, reasonably contributed for political purposes, are unlawfully converted for personal use? 

At the very least, these are questions that should have been raised when the tour was first announced, and even if laws are not being broken, it is yet another display of exceptionally poor judgment from someone playing footsie with running for president of the United States.

Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and a Democratic consultant.