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Cuccinelli’s $600,000 IOU to Virginia Taxpayers

By Mike Signer | March 12, 2012 | No Comments

The cup of adjectives runneth over to describe Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s sloppy, wasteful, elitist, self-indulgent, and special interest-driven fishing expedition against a UVA professor whose research Cuccinelli personally disagreed with.  With last week’s decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia to strike down Cuccinelli’s subpoena once and for all, the question now is how Cuccinelli can reckon with the fact that he forced a great public university to spent $600,000 defending itself against his blundering ego machine.

Why do I call these actions “elitist”?  The term describes those who consider themselves superior to others.  Ordinary Virginians watching the Arctic Circle recede, temperatures rise, Nobel Prize winners call the alarm, and the government adjust the national map for home gardening change understand that we should act to reduce carbon.  Cuccinelli, by his words and deeds, is putting himself and his opinions above thousands of conscientious Virginians who are trying to maintain our wonderful streams, forests, oceans, and summer days for our children and grandchildren — and that’s elitist.

You’re familiar with the background — a UVA professor named Michael Mann believes human activity is driving global warming.  Ken Cuccinelli does not — or, at least, the big donors, national extremists, and Tea Partyers who he likes to cater to don’t.  So Cuccinelli decided that because Professor Mann (an employee of a public university) was a beneficiary of taxpayer dollars, that his research (which Cuccinelli disagreed with) was “fraudulent” — and that the Attorney General’s office could subpoena Mann’s emails and records to prove the fraud.

It was a breathtaking overreach, a plain abuse of power.  How many people in the Commonwealth of Virginia have some nexus to taxpayer funds?  How many of them have enemies who would describe their claims — in moments of pique — as “frauds”?  Are all of these people’s private records then subject to subpoena by a government official?

What about a student on public scholarship with an academic paper Cuccinelli doesn’t agree with?  What about a public employee who writes a letter to the editor that Cuccinelli hates?  It’s a boundless precedent, dizzying in its scope and sickening in its application.

The mechanics of this are simple enough to understand — when you’re focused only on yourself, only on your career, only on your national reputation and traveling to DC and conservative conferences and Iowa, it’s easy enough to view the law, legal reasoning, and facts as annoying interference.

But this is Virginia.  This is a Commonwealth with great lawyers, a proud tradition of ethical excellence, a tremendous Bar, some of the world’s finest public law schools, and a civic republican tradition dating back three centuries.  It’s fitting that Cuccinelli’s un-Virginian campaign would be crushed under the heel of Virginia’s own Supreme Court.

A powerful editorial in today’s Washington Post describes Cuccinelli’s crusade as a “witch hunt,” ” harassment,” and “a costly episode of government overreach that is finally over.”  In their words:

Now that the Supreme Court has shut Mr. Cuccinelli down, what’s left is a range of consequences that can only hurt the commonwealth. The university had to raise nearly $600,000 for legal fees — money the cash-strapped university should have been able to use for something productive. On top of that are the public resources of the attorney general’s office that Mr. Cuccinelli wasted. Scientists in Virginia now have reason to wonder whether they will suffer similar pressure if they publish research government officials don’t like. And, because of some of the Supreme Court’s legal findings, the powers of the attorney general to pursue actual fraud have been clipped.

True, the $600,000 in legal fees was raised from private sources.  But by the very logic Cuccinelli used to get to this lawsuit, those were public funds, spent by a public university.  So let the questioning begin: how will Cuccinelli compensate Virginia taxpayers for the $600,000 his personal PR machine cost us?


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