Anchorage, Alaska Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.
The governor also has charged the state for travel expenses to take her children on official out-of-town missions. And her husband, Todd, has billed the state for expenses and a daily allowance for trips he makes on official business for his wife.
Palin, who earns $125,000 a year, claimed and received $16,951 as her allowance, which officials say was permitted because her official "duty station" is Juneau, according to an analysis of her travel documents by The Washington Post.
The governor's daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel and many of the trips were to and from their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.
Gubernatorial spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Monday that Palin's expenses are not unusual and that, under state policy, the first family could have claimed per diem expenses for each child taken on official business but has not done so.
Before she became the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee, Palin was little known outside Alaska. Now, with the campaign emphasizing her executive experience, her record as mayor of Wasilla, as a state oil-and-gas commissioner and as governor is receiving intense scrutiny.
During her speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Palin cast herself as crusader for fiscal rectitude as Alaska's governor. She noted that she sold a state-owned plane used by the former governor.
Speaking from Palin's Anchorage office, Leighow said that Palin dealt with the plane and also trimmed other expenses, including foregoing a chef in the governor's mansion because she preferred to cook for her family. The first family's travel is an expected part of the job, she said.
"As a matter of protocol, the governor and the first family are expected to attend community events across the state," she said. "It's absolutely reasonable that the first family participates in community events."
The state finance director, Kim Garnero, said Alaska law exempts the governor's office from elaborate travel regulations. Said Leighow: "The governor is entitled to a per diem, and she claims it."
The popular governor collected the per diem allowance from April 22, four days after the birth of her fifth child, until June 3, when she flew to Juneau for two days. Palin moved her family to the capital during the legislative session last year, but prefers to stay in Wasilla and drive 45 miles to Anchorage to a state office building where she conducts most of her business, aides have said.
Palin rarely sought reimbursement for meals while staying in Anchorage or Wasilla, the reports show.
She wrote some form of "Lodging - own residence" or "Lodging - Wasilla residence" more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.
Palin charged the state a per diem for working on Nov. 22, 2007 - Thanksgiving Day. The reason given, according to the expense report, was the Great Alaska Shootout, an annual NCAA college basketball tournament held in Anchorage.
In separate filings, the state was billed about $25,000 for Palin's daughters' expenses and $19,000 for her husband, Todd Palin.
Flights topped the list for the most expensive items, and the daughter whose bill was the highest was Piper, 7, whose flights cost nearly $11,000, while Willow, 14, claimed about $6,000 and Bristol, 17, accounted for about $3,400.
Asked Monday about the official policy on charging for children's travel expenses, Garnero said: "We cover the expenses of anyone who's conducting state business. I can't imagine kids could be doing that."
But Leighow said many of the hundreds of invitations Palin receives include requests for her to bring her family, placing the definition of "state business" with the party extending the invitation.
Gov. Palin has spent far less on her personal travel than her predecessor: $93,000 on airfare in 2007, compared with $463,000 spent the year before by her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. He traveled often in an executive jet that Palin called an extravagance during her campaign. She sold it after she was sworn into office.