Sale of Alaska's state jet on eBay revealed as a lie

Sarah Palin bolstered her reputation as a reformer – and got one of her biggest cheers in her Republican convention speech last week – when she said she had sold the governor's official jet on eBay as her first act on taking office in Alaska.

What she didn't say was that the aircraft had failed to sell over the internet and was eventually sold off at a loss.

Governor Palin won her spot as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in part because John McCain saw in her a little of his own campaign theme of cutting government waste and his reputation as a maverick.

And he has since claimed on the stump that his running mate sold the jet for a profit on the internet auction site. The spin, though, has been over-spun. Inquiries by the journalists and Democratic party operatives who have descended on Alaska have turned up quite different facts: namely, that the jet was hauled off eBay after failing to attract decent bids.

The Westwind II jet had been bought for $2.7m in 2005 by Mrs Palin's predecessor as governor, Frank Murkowski. It had become one of the symbols of excess in the governor's mansion which would help the young, right-wing Mrs Palin sweep to power the following year.

"That luxury jet was over the top," she told the convention last week, in a feisty speech that was watched by 37 million on TV and established the self-described "hockey mom" as a scrappy new force in national politics. Grinning, she said: "I put it on eBay."

In fact when it was listed on eBay it attracted only one serious bid, and that fell through. Dan Spencer, director of administrative services at Alaska's Public Safety Department, told reporters that John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House, then brokered a sale to Larry Reynolds, a businessman who made campaign contributions to both Mrs Palin and Mr Harris.

Mr Reynolds paid only $2.1m for the aircraft, and now wants $50,000 from the Alaskan taxpayer to cover maintenance costs. The discrepancies in the tale have given additional material to Democrats trying to counter Mrs Palin's popular appeal.

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