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Palin demands $15m to search her own emails

The cost of transparency

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US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin isn't saying citizens interested in open government can't get access to her emails. She's just saying it will cost a little.

The office of the Alaska governor, which by state law is required to make such messages public, says it could cost more than $15m for anyone conducting an exhaustive search. Even then, Palin - who ran for governor on a platform of running a clean and transparent government - says requests won't be honored until November 17, two weeks after the presidential election is held.

It's fair to say that interest in Palin's email has spiked since Republican presidential nominee John McCain named her as his running mate. Not only has her office been swamped with requests for copies of state records, but her personal Yahoo email account was breached and some of its contents were posted to the Wikileaks site.

The leak offered evidence strongly suggesting that Palin conducted official state business using the very unofficial gov.palin@yahoo.com email address. Messages sent to it bore subject headings such as "Draft letter to Governor Schwarzenegger," "Court of Appeals Nominations" and "CONFIDENTIAL Ethics Matter." Critics say her use of the Yahoo account could violate Alaska open records laws that require official communications to be available to members of the public.

An Alaska state judge has ordered Palin to preserve the contents of the account.

The emails Palin's office has valued at $15m were sent by various state employees to her husband, Todd, who is not a state employee. State bean counters say it will cost $960.31 to search each employee's account. If email for all 16,000 employees are processed, the exact figure is $15,364,000.96. They figure it will take 13 hours per email account. That figure doesn't include the cost of the paper. The office will only make the email available in hard copy.

Palin may portray herself as a Washington outsider unversed in the sleights of hand politicians use to keep Joe Six-Pack from seeing what's really going on in government. But in Alaska, she knows how it's done. ®

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