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Palin's eBay Story: What Actually Happened

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"That luxury jet that came with the office... I put it on eBay!"

It's one of Sarah Palin's favorite lines on the campaign trail, repeated with such frequency that it has already become a catchphrase of the general election. As Governor of Alaska, she rid the state of an unnecessary jet using a creative and cost-effective online measure.

What is left unmentioned is that Palin didn't come up with the idea to sell the plane using eBay in the first place. Moreover, because of the unique purchasing terms of the aircraft -- which required the state to make payments amounting to $20,000 per month even if the jet wasn't in use -- the decision not to hire a broker to help sell the property appears in hindsight to have been a costly mistake.

Before the Alaska Republican took office, it was something of a standard operating procedure for the state to try to sell such big-ticket items using the online auction site. Officials had been doing it since at least 2003, three years before Palin became governor.

"It was the practice of the state to dispose of items such as this via eBay prior to listing the jet," Vern Jones, Alaska's Chief Procurement Officer, acknowledged on Tuesday.

Despite being a normal state procedure and, in the end, a costly one, Palin has highlighted her decision to put Alaska's luxury jet on eBay in every speech she has given since being chosen as McCain's vice president. It is a significantly abridged version of what happened.

By the time she was elected, there were many state items being offered on eBay. As the Anchorage Daily News reported on December 13, 2006, nine days after Palin took office and the day she announced the jet posting, the state was "auctioning 38 items on the site, including three aircraft -- two Super Cubs and a Cessna... Other items for sale included two sets of used helicopter floats ($300) and King Air exhaust stacks ($500)."

Back in 2003, the state sold an old ferry, The Bartlett, for $389,500. As Jones noted in a Daily News article at that time, "it [was] not unusual for Alaska to sell big-ticket items on eBay because the site is cheap and has a big audience."

The state jet, in contrast, was not a good fit for eBay. Palin never actually sold the aircraft online (though, unlike John McCain, she never claimed that to be the case). But more important, while the jet sat unsold, Alaska was on the hook to pay $62,492.79 every three months as part of the initial purchasing deal.

In other words, if the state wasn't going to use the aircraft, there was an imperative to get rid of it. And as her administration waited for a bidder to match its minimum offer, those payments added up.

Twenty days after putting the jet online, the Palin administration had to reissue the listing. The minimum bid had not been met. By April, the jet still had not sold despite three additional attempts. Eventually, Palin signed a contract with an Anchorage aircraft broker to help succeed where eBay couldn't. In August 2007, eight months after it was first put on sale, the jet was sold to an Alaskan businessman for $2.1 million -- $600,000 shy of the purchasing price.

"The eBay thing didn't work out very well," Dan Spencer, director of administrative services for the Department of Public Safety (the individual charged with trying to get rid of the plane) told the Anchorage Daily News in April 2007. "I am [tired of dealing with it]," he added. "I don't know about anyone else."

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