Let's consider this tale of two women.
One, Sue Schmitz, is a Democrat, serving as a state legislator in Alabama. The other, Sarah Palin, is a Republican, serving as governor of Alaska and as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
Schmitz this week barely avoided conviction on federal fraud charges. U.S. Judge R. David Proctor declared a mistrial when the jury remained deadlocked after deliberating over four days. The Birmingham News reported that the jury voted 11-1 to convict, with Earl Jordan of Huntsville being the lone holdout. When Jordan refused to go along with a compromise proposal for conviction on a single fraud charge, the jury could not get to a unanimous verdict. Prosecutors say they intend to retry Schmitz, possibly before the end of this year.
Palin, meanwhile, has become the darling of conservative America. She has gotten the gun-loving, God-fearing, choice-hating wing of the Republican Party revved up and appears to be responsible for a convention bounce that has McCain leading Barack Obama in several national polls.
But let's take a closer look at the Schmitz/Palin comparison.
Schmitz essentially was charged with taking state pay on a job for which she did little, or no, work. It became a federal matter, apparently, because the program that employed her receives federal funds. Based on news reports, uncontroverted evidence showed that Schmitz did do some work in the 3-plus years she was with the CITY program. In other words, Schmitz clearly did something to earn pay, which indicates she did not set out to defraud the public. The law requires an intent to defraud, and that was not present--but 11 of 12 jurors were ready to send Schmitz to federal prison anyway.
What about Palin? We recently learned from the Washington Post that Palin has been charging Alaska taxpayers a per diem, even when she is at her home. The allowance is intended to cover meals and incidental expenses when an official is traveling on state business. But Palin has been taking the allowance for more than 300 days when she was at home, costing the state almost $17,000.
The Post quotes several Alaska officials saying Palin's actions are not unusual under state law. But the story does not raise these questions: What about federal law? Has Sarah Palin committed a federal crime?
It's undisputed that Alaska receives federal funds, so that would make Palin's situation a federal matter. And if the Bush Justice Department truly believes in the standard it set for the Schmitz case, then Palin appears to be on the wrong side of the law.
Schmitz was charged with taking state funds without doing sufficient work to earn them. Palin has been shown to be taking state funds without meeting the standards for earning them. One could even argue that by avoiding Juneau (the state capital) and doing most of her work in Anchorage or Wasilla, Palin intentionally set up a professional situation for herself that would result in fraud.
That was exactly the charge in the Schmitz case.
If the rule of law and equal protection matter in the Bush Justice Department, we should be seeing a federal investigation of Sarah Palin any day now.
Let's not all hold our breaths at once.
(Tip of the hat to Scott Horton.)