Palin Ethics Investigator Closely Tied to Democratic Party

The independent investigator who has accused Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin of violating state ethics laws is a major donor to the Democratic Party as well as a partner in a law firm that represented Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Thomas Daniel was hired by the Alaska Personnel Board in late April to investigate several complaints against Palin, including one filed by an Alaska resident who claims the governor used her official position for personal gain by authorizing the creation of a trust to use as her legal defense fund.

In a July 14 report leaked to The Associated Press and major news organizations, Daniel accused Palin of drawing improper gifts and unwarranted benefits. His report recommended that Palin refuse to accept payment from the defense fund and settle the complaint to avoid a formal hearing before the board.

Palin's supporters say the governor, who will resign on Sunday, needs the legal fund because of a quirk in Alaska law that prevents state officials from defending the state's chief executive against ethics allegations.

"The whole situation is nuts," said John Coale, a prominent Washington attorney who helped set up the legal fund, which so far has accepted $500,000 in donations. "Alaska has an ethics law that is unsustainable."

Coale also accused the personnel board of being "either vicious or idiotic" to hire Daniel, whose law firm is closely tied to the Democratic Party.

Daniel has contributed $3,500 in recent years to Democratic causes, including $1,500 to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 and $1,000 to Alaska Sen. Mark Begich's senatorial campaign last year.

The law firm where he is a partner, Perkins Coie, serves as counsel of record for the Democratic Party and its candidates, and attorneys there recently represented Obama's presidential campaign.

"Whatever happens, you know there's going to be a huge explosion at the end," Coale said.

Daniel told that any lawyer hired to investigate a complaint is going to have political views, but that shouldn't interfere with the task at hand.

"This is not intended to be a political process," he said. "It's intended to make a determination of whether there is probable cause of an ethics violation."

At least 19 ethics complaints have been filed against Palin, most of them after she became the Republican party's vice presidential candidate last August. Palin has cited the toll of the probes as one of the reasons she is resigning as governor.

The bulk of those complaints have been dismissed, and Daniel recommended dismissal in five of the cases.

"This is the only one of the six that I found probable cause," Daniel said. "If you look at the whole record, it shows that I have not exhibited any bias."

Coale said it wouldn't have been difficult for the board to find a neutral investigator, and argued the personnel board shouldn't have pushed Daniel as "independent."

"I don't know if the guy is straight or not," Coale said. "They should have disclosed this before. It doesn't mean you can't be objective. But in this situation, you don't want the appearance of bias."

The head of the board, Debra English, did not return a voicemail message requesting an interview.

Sharon Leighow, Palin's spokeswoman, said she was unaware of Daniel's contributions and ties to the Democratic Party but added, "I don't have any reason to believe he's unfair."