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As more details emerge about vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin, some of them seem at odds with the reformer image she's presenting, and her record on the controversial topic of congressional earmarks appears to contradict itself. NPR's Peter Overby explains.
PETER OVERBY: Sarah Palin and presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain say they're completely in synch on getting rid of congressional earmarks, those spending items that lawmakers stick into bills to benefit their constituents and allies.
As governor of Alaska for the past 20 months, Palin knows that's a gutsy stand. The state's congressional delegation is considered Capitol Hill's gold medal team in the earmark competition. So here's Palin when McCain introduced her last Friday.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Vice Presidential Candidate): I signed major ethics reforms, and I appointed both Democrats and independents to serve in my administration, and I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.
OVERBY: But a weekend of research turns up a different picture. Under Governor Palin, the state's quest for federal earmarks hasn't slackened, and before that, when she was mayor of Wasilla, that city hired its first Washington lobbyist. His mission, earmarks.
Mr. STEVE ELLIS (Vice President, Taxpayers for Common Sense): Well, she was for earmarks before she was against earmarks.
OVERBY: Steve Ellis is vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. That's a watchdog group that tracks the booming business of congressional earmarking.
Mr. ELLIS: She was a avid recipient of earmark dollars as mayor. And now that she's on the ticket with Senator McCain, which - who is an unabashed opponent of earmarks, she's toeing that line.
OVERBY: Taxpayers for Common Sense combed through the lobbying reports that Wasilla filed when Palin was mayor. It came up with 14 items, totaling slightly less than $27 million. Wasilla was doing about as well as Boise, Idaho. Wasilla's population is about 10,000, Boise's about 200,000. And the cost to Wasilla, roughly $140,000 over four years.
As Steve Ellis points out, that's a stunning return on investment. It didn't hurt that Wasilla's lobbyist was a former chief of staff to Ted Stevens. He's not only Alaska's senior senator; for much of the time that Palin was mayor, he chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, the committee that writes the checks.
Pain has since distanced herself from Stevens, and he was indicted on corruption charges in July.
Palin's quest for earmarks from Washington also seems at odds with her ties to the Alaskan Independence Party. The AIP now claims some 13,700 registered voters, a meaningful number in sparsely populated Alaska.
Over the weekend, liberal bloggers dug into the question of whether Palin ever joined the party, which contends that Alaskans ought to get another chance to decide if statehood is such a good deal for them.
The party held its 2008 convention in March. Vice chairman Dexter Clark reminded members that they had supported Palin for governor. This clip comes from an amateur video recording of Clark's talk.
(Soundbite of amateur video)
Mr. DEXTER CLARK (Vice Chairman, Alaska Independence Party): She was an AIP member before she got the job as mayor of a small town. That was a non-partisan job. But to get along to go along, she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics.
OVERBY: Today, McCain's staff said Palin has never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. They called it a smear. NPR asked McCain's campaign for comment. As of this afternoon, the campaign had not responded. It did release state documents, in which Palin declared herself a Republican eight different times since 1990. But AIP chair Lynette Clark said Sarah and Todd Palin went to the party convention in 1996.
Ms. LYNETTE CLARK (Chair, Alaska Independence Party): We show Todd Palin as registered with the AIP, but it's my understanding that she was registered and that she changed her registration in 1996.
OVERBY: Clark says they're still looking for documentation. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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