You have to read the article carefully to figure this out, but what the story ultimately reveals is that Palin (a) billed the state for most expenses allowed by law, including per diem when she stayed in her own home (her "duty station" was the state capitol of Juneau) in Wasilla; (b) didn't bill the state for other expenses, when she could have done so lawfully, such as per diems for her children; and (c) spent a lot less money on expenses than did her predecessor, especially on travel and by ridding herself of the state's personal chef. [FWIW, she apparently maintained two residences, the governor's mansion in Juneau, which by state law is her official work "base" and where assumedly she didn't get a per diem [update: confirmed here] (but where her predecessor had a personal chef whom she let go), and Wasilla, from where she commuted to Anchorage for work when the legislature wasn't in session. Saintly to take the per diem she was legally entitled to when in the second residence? No. Worthy of the lead headline on Washingtonpost.com? Please! Not illegal, not unethical, and not a scandal.]
Meanwhile, I have to wonder whether the Post has several reporters looking over Joe Biden's expense reports. Does he bill the government for his daily roundtrip to Delaware? How many "fact-finding missions" has he participated in annually during his Senate career? Inquiring minds want to know?
UPDATE: The Post doesn't do the math for us, but the total per diem claimed was $16,951 divided divided by 312 days, or $54.33 per day (the per diem is $60, so there were some partial days).
Also, the article headline, "Palin Billed State for Nights Spent at Home," and some related content, is very misleading. A glance at the expense report reproduced on the Post's website makes it clear that she requested per diem for her daily expenses, but not for lodging, and that she apparently wrote "lodging--own home" only to explain why she wasn't requesting hotel expenses. One almost wonders whether the author of the story understands what a "per diem" is; the story notes that Palin rarely charged the state for meals when in Wasilla and Anchorage, but of course she didn't, because she instead just asked for the per diem!
The Post also reports:
In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.It must have been quite a little scandal, because a search of the Anchorage Daily News for "Tony Smith" reveals no per diem controversy, only a controversy over alleged contract-steering that led to Smith's resignation, and an earlier, much smaller controversy about state officials, including Smith, taking foreign trips. There was a contemporaneous (early 1989) controversy over the expenses claimed by state Sen. Paul Fischer, including allegations that he requested a per diem on days when he was not where he claimed to be.
"It was quite the little scandal," said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000.