Pundits can debate the political costs and benefits of Sarah Palin's decision to step down as Alaska governor, but the monetary advantages of leaving her $125,000-a-year public service post are beyond dispute.
Since leaving office at the end of July 2009, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has brought in at least 100 times her old salary – a haul now estimated at more than $12 million -- through television and book deals and a heavy schedule of speaking appearances worth five and six figures.
That conservative estimate is based on publicly available records and news accounts. The actual number is probably much higher, but is hard to quantify because Palin does not publicize her earnings. She reputedly got a $7 million deal for her first book, with the bulk of that money due after her resignation as governor, and will earn about $250,000 per episode, according to the web site The Daily Beast, for each of eight episodes of a reality show about Alaska for the The Learning Channel. She has managed to keep a lid on reliable figures for her earnings from a multi-year contract with Fox News and a second book deal with HarperCollins.
A Palin aide responding to questions from ABC News said the governor "is now a private citizen. As a result, her fees and earnings are private."
While book and television royalties are huge earners, Palin, 46, has taken on a breakneck schedule of public speaking engagements, booked through the Washington Speakers Bureau. Her typical fee is $100,000, according to a January report in Politico, though she accepts a somewhat smaller fee for events on the West Coast because they are easier to get to from Alaska. Speakers Bureau officials did not respond to emailed questions.
Palin appears to select audiences that are likely to provide a warm welcome. In February, Palin coupled a paid speech to the Daytona Chamber of Commerce with an appearance at NASCAR's Daytona 500 and a local book signing, and was welcomed with cheers of "We love you, Sarah!" In the past nine months, she has stopped in to address the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, the Complete Woman Expo, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, and the Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference, among others.
Speaking fees have long provided a steady income to big-name elected officials who have left the political main stage. President Reagan once got $2 million from a Japanese manufacturing company for two 20-minute speeches. Bill Clinton collected some $40 million in speaking fees during the six years following his presidency. And George W. Bush told reporters he expected to make a "ridiculous" amount of money on the speaker's circuit when he left office.
But for Palin, who by some accounts is still nurturing a political career and possible 2012 presidential bid, the decision of when to charge for her appearances and when to headline an event for free is proving nettlesome. And it has turned into grist for controversy.