Who is Todd Palin?
According to the Alaska legislative report on what has become known as Troopergate, Sarah Palin's husband used the Governor's office to promote a personal agenda. Indeed, while the report found that Governor Palin "unlawfully abused her authority" in her obsessive vendetta against her former brother in law, the 263 page document focuses heavily on "First Dude" Todd's activities.
The report specifically charges not only that "Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired," but that she "permitted Todd to use the Governor's office and the resources of the Governor's office, including access to state employees, to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired."
We also learn from the report that Todd Palin regularly sat in on Alaska's cabinet meetings, which, by the way, are not open to the public, as well as official discussions on the state budget, and that he appears to have been copied on hundreds of official e-mails as a matter of course. In addition, he has taken publicly-funded trips with state commissioners to inspect Alaskan mines and the proposed route for a new pipeline.
Todd Palin is far more than just the Governor's spouse. He himself told investigator Stephen Branchflower in an affidavit that "I have heard criticism that I am too involved in my wife's administration. My wife and I are very close. We are each other's best friend. I have helped her in her career the best I can, and she has helped me."
Does that mean that John McCain and Sarah Palin will give Todd Palin a substantive role in their administration if they are elected? It would appear so, by the McCain campaign's own admission. Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, compared "the role Todd has played" to those of First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, and one that "I don't think is dissimilar from other spouses, and I think it's an entirely appropriate role. And Todd will play an appropriate role as the spouse of the vice president."
The McCain campaign should be commended for its honesty. Earlier in the campaign, John McCain argued that "spouses should not be an issue in this campaign," but that was before his own campaign staff admitted that Todd Palin would in fact "play an appropriate role" in a McCain-Palin White House.
We are entitled to know what that role is likely to be. Is Todd Palin going to call government officials from the White House to lobby for or against political allies or enemies? Is he going to summon cabinet members into the Vice President's office to try to get a relative hired or fired? That is, after all, his track record.
Todd Palin also appears to have lobbied Alaska state legislators on issues other than his former brother in law's continued employment. When Republican State Representative Jay Ramras, the chairman of the Alaska House Judiciary Committee, saw the Todd Palin outside the legislative chamber one day last year, "My colleagues told me he was lobbying for the governor's position on oil taxes." This made Ramras uncomfortable. "I think that when the spouse of an elected governor steps away from safe issues that are nonpartisan in nature," he said, "that it is bad for the legislative and executive branches, and Todd Palin would not be an exception to that."
Equally important, if Todd Palin is going to be one of the Vice President's most senior advisors, if not the most senior, he should be made available to the media to answer questions about his political views. The little we know about him is disconcerting.
For seven years, from 1995 until 2002, he was a member of the controversial extreme right-wing Alaska Independence Party. This is a party whose principal goal is a statewide vote on whether Alaska should secede from the United States, and whose founder's nuggets of wisdom, featured prominently on the AIP's website, include "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions," and "The problem with you John Birchers is that you are too damn liberal!"
What, if anything, did Todd Palin do as a member of the AIP? Did he actively support Alaskan independence, and if so, by what means? The Alaska Independence Party is affiliated with other extremist right wing political groups around the United States, including the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers' Party) which wants to "restore our government to its Constitutional limits and our law to its Biblical foundations." Does he see himself as "an Alaskan, not an American"? What does he think about American institutions such as, say, the Supreme Court and Congress? Does he, like AIP founder Joe Vogler, consider the John Birch Society to be "too damn liberal"? Earlier this year, AIP Vice Chairman Dexter Carter urged party members to "infiltrate" the two major parties. Come again? Is that why Todd Palin is now a registered Republican?
We know that Sarah Palin has been "palling around" with Todd. We don't know with whom Todd Palin has been, or for that matter may still be, "palling around."
At the very least, both John McCain and Sarah Palin should tell us whether they approve of Todd Palin's past membership in the AIP and whether, if elected, they will allow him to use the apparent authority of the White House to promote a personal agenda.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City.