Vanity Fair on Sarah Palin: Bipolar Temper and Front Groups

Vanity Fair takes another whack at Sarah Palin, but the profile by Michael Joseph Gross seems to try not to read like, or be, a hit piece, even though almost everything in it about Palin is bad. It's the third big piece Vanity Fair has published on the former governor, following Todd Purdum's takedown entitled "It Came from Wasilla" (published last August) and Levi Johnston's "Me and Mrs. Palin" (published the following month).


Much of Gross's story has to do with the people of Wasilla and how they see Palin, mostly as a newfound outsider of whom they live in perpetual fear, cautious to speak badly of her for fear of reprisal, kind of like the reported sentiments of Iraqis living in fear of Saddam after his government was toppled and he hid from U.S. forces in desert bunkers.

Many things stand out, but two of them are the accounts of Palin's seemingly bipolar temper and the use of front political groups to put on her speeches.

The temper:

Warm and effusive in public, indifferent or angry in private: this is the pattern of Palin's behavior toward the people who make her life possible. A onetime gubernatorial aide to Palin says, "The people who have worked for her--they're broken, used, stepped on, down in the dust." On the 2008 campaign trail, one close aide recalls, it was practically impossible to persuade Palin to take a moment to thank the kitchen workers at fund-raising dinners. During the campaign, Palin lashed out at the slightest provocation, sometimes screaming at staff members and throwing objects. Witnessing such behavior, one aide asked Todd Palin if it was typical of his wife. He answered, "You just got to let her go through it... Half the stuff that comes out of her mouth she doesn't even mean." When a campaign aide gingerly asked Todd whether Sarah should consider taking psychiatric medication to control her moods, Todd responded that she "just needed to run and work out more." Her anger kept boiling over, however, and eventually the fits of rage came every day. Then, just as suddenly, her temper would be gone. Palin would apologize and promise to be nicer. Within hours, she would be screaming again. At the end of one long day, when Palin was mid-tirade, a campaign aide remembers thinking, "You were an angel all night. Now you're a devil. Where did this come from?"

The intensity of Palin's temper was first described to me in such extreme terms that I couldn't help but wonder if it might be exaggerated, until I heard corroborating tales of outbursts dating back to her days as mayor of Wasilla and before. One friend of the Palins' remembers an argument between Sarah and Todd: "They took all the canned goods out of the pantry, then proceeded to throw them at each other. By the time they got done, the stainless-steel fridge looked like it had got shot up with a shotgun. Todd said, 'I don't know why I even waste my time trying to get nice things for you if you're just going to ruin them.' " This friend adds, "As soon as she enters her property and the door closes, even the insects in that house cringe. She has a horrible temper, but she has gotten away with it because she is a pretty woman." (The friend elaborated on this last point: "Once, while Sarah was preparing for a city-council meeting, she said, 'I'm gonna put on one of my push-up bras so I can get what I want tonight.' That's how she rolls.") When Palin was mayor, she made life for one low-level municipal employee so miserable that the woman quit her job, sought psychiatric counseling, and then left the state altogether to escape Palin's sphere of influence--this according to one person with firsthand knowledge of the situation. The woman did not want to be found. When I finally tracked her down, her husband, who answered the phone, at first pretended that I had dialed the wrong number and that the word "Wasilla" had no meaning to him. Palin's former personal assistants all refused to comment on the record for this story, some citing a fear of reprisal. Others who have worked with Palin recall that, when she feels threatened, she does not hesitate to wield some version of a signature threat: "I have the power to ruin you."

And the front groups:

The Winning America Back conference [an event where Palin spoke, and which Gross describes] was organized by a Missouri political-action committee called Preserving American Liberty (PAL-PAC). The group's Web site states that "Members of Preserving American Liberty are from the Kansas City metropolitan area and are all unpaid volunteers who want to make a positive difference in the community." Yet when I asked local politicians (including state representatives, a Senate candidate, and a congressional candidate) and local journalists about who had organized the event, I found that they knew nothing about the sponsors--"maybe because they're Tea Partiers," one reporter guessed, "and they're all new to politics."

PAL-PAC seems to have been created for a single purpose: to pay Sarah Palin to give a speech. PAL-PAC announced the Palin event at the same time that it announced its own formation. After the Palin event was over, most of the information on PAL-PAC's Web site disappeared. In effect, PAL-PAC was a disposable entertainment company, set up to put on a one-day show that collected the contact information of thousands of people who came to see Palin in the flesh, and to give her their money. The organization has not been mentioned again anywhere online or in local newspapers. The group's financial statements are curious. PAL-PAC was registered in Missouri last November; as of April 15, 2010, when it made its second quarterly disclosure report to the Missouri Ethics Commission, two weeks before Palin arrived in Independence, PAL-PAC had only $3,202 in the bank. This was not nearly enough money to reserve the venue, much less cover security, printing, advertising, or any of the other expenses associated with throwing an event for 4,000 people. PAL-PAC's third disclosure report, filed on July 14, reveals large payments to Wayne Graves, a Kansas City physician, whose wife, Karladine, also a doctor, is the president of PAL-PAC. Wayne Graves performed a key service for Winning America Back: he personally paid the speakers' fees and travel expenses. On June 23, according to the report, he was reimbursed for these outlays: $15,134.83 for "Reimburse Speak[er]," and $126,000, also for "Reimburse Speak[er]." By fronting the money for these expenses, Graves made it possible for PAL-PAC to keep details such as Palin's precise fee under wraps. But the lion's share of that $126,000, it seems safe to assume, went to Palin--that would tally with verified reports of what Palin has been paid elsewhere. When reached by phone, Karladine Graves refused to answer any questions about PAL-PAC: "I'm--we're just a tiny little group, and we're not really anything, I just, oh, no, I can't talk about this." (Palin is on track to earn well over $3 million in speaking fees for events this year. Washington Speakers Bureau did not respond to an interview request.)

Other stops on Palin's road show raise questions similar to those surrounding Winning America Back. Palin spoke to a group in Dallas that claimed to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group but is not registered as one. That event was advertised as a fund-raiser for the Uptown Women's Center, whose eponymous U.R.L. redirected visitors to a Web site selling tickets for the event, palin4life.com, which has since disappeared. In June, Palin was scheduled to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, for two events, a $300-per-ticket "Evening with Sarah Palin" and the free "Complete Woman Expo 2010." Both were sponsored by a newly formed organization, the Blue Ridge Educational Resource Group. Like PAL-PAC, the Blue Ridge group had sprung up from nowhere, and also like PAL-PAC, it somehow landed one of the country's most-sought-after female speakers to headline its very first event. Local officials eventually expressed skepticism that Blue Ridge was competent to manage the logistics for an expected crowd of 30,000, and at the last minute both events were canceled. The Blue Ridge group's Web site, like PAL-PAC's, was reduced to a shell.

The full story includes reporting from many Wasilla sources, named and unnamed, and is well worth a read.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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