ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Moments after Gov. Sarah Palin's first speech as Republican John McCain's running mate, she sat with her kids backstage, thumbing one of the two BlackBerrys that are always with her. You can see them in photographs from that day on the campaign blog of one of McCain's daughters.
The tech-savvy governor has one of the devices (which allow users to read and send e-mails) for state business and another for personal matters, but those worlds intertwine.
Palin routinely uses a private Yahoo e-mail account to conduct state business. Others in the governor's office sometimes use personal e-mail accounts, too.
The practice raises questions about backdoor secrecy in an administration that vowed during the 2006 campaign to be "open and transparent."
Even before the McCain campaign plucked Palin from Alaska, a controversy was brewing over e-mail in the governor's office. Was the administration trying to get around the public records law through broad exemptions or private e-mail accounts?
Activists, still fighting to obtain hundreds of e-mails that were withheld from public records requests this year, say that's what it looks like.
The governor's Yahoo account is "the most nonsensical, inane thing I've ever heard of," said Andree McLeod, who is appealing the administration's decision to withhold e-mails.
"The governor sets the tone and the tone that has been set by this governor is beyond the pale," McLeod said. "Common sense tells you to use an official state e-mail account for official state business."
Palin did not respond to requests for comment or answer an e-mail sent to her Yahoo account. The Washington Post included Palin's Yahoo address in a recent story, so she may not be using that one anymore.
Her staff says the governor is open — within reason and within the law.
She is allowed to keep e-mails confidential if they fall into certain categories, such as "deliberative process," said her press secretary, Bill McAllister.
State lawyers say that the governor's e-mails about public business should be treated like any other public record, even if she's sent them through a private account such as Yahoo.
Some experts on open government say officials around the country escape scrutiny by either quickly deleting e-mails or using private accounts, as Palin has.
"Where you've got a governor apparently using a Yahoo account for state business, that's kind of a complete inversion of what ought to be happening in terms of public records," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and a Missouri journalism associate professor.
"E-mail that's public business ought to be done on public accounts that can become public record," he said.