Where’s the Attorney General on Ethics?
In recent weeks we have seen publicity swirl around the Center for Public Integrity’s recent report in which Virginia, along with 7 other states, was given a failing grade when it came to the possibility for corruption in the state government. I was reminded of a story told by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer at the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner last month.
Governor Schweitzer recounted the tale of the “copper barons” of Montana, who in the late 19th century effectively owned the state legislature, going so far as to openly hand out bribes to members as they left the chamber after taking votes which had benefited the barons. One of these men even saw fit to bribe the legislature to elect him United States Senator. (This was before the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. Senators had been passed). Upon his arrival in Washington, the copper baron discovered that the Senate would not seat him, as it did not condone the method in which he had been elected.
In refusing to seat a man who had gotten where he was solely though corruption, the Senate was demonstrating an ability to police itself. This is an area where Virginia is clearly falling short. The lack of an ethics commission is the tip of the iceberg, as was touched on by my colleague Neal Modi last week. The lack of limits on campaign contributions is more worrying to me and conjures up images of lobbyists from Dominion Energy prowling the halls of the General Assembly in much the same manner that the agents of the copper barons did in Montana. While we have had only one major ethics scandal in the Virginia General Assembly in recent years, one cannot assume that the absence of further scandals indicates that none are occurring. The absence of evidence, after all, is not the evidence of absence.
This brings me to my final point: where has Virginia’s chief law enforcement officer been while this has been going on? Apparently the Attorney General believes his time is better spent running for higher office or focusing his office’s time on issues of no importance to Virginians such as suing the University of Virginia over climate change, or making sure Virginia was the first to challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, an act which will benefit all Virginians if enacted.
A review of the Attorney General’s office’s Annual Report from 2010 (the 2011 Annual Report was not available online) indicates that no corruption cases are pending before the higher courts in Virginia and not a single press release from his office mentioned prosecutions or arrests for anything related to corruption. Indeed, the suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and against the Affordable Care Act are still featured prominently on the Attorney General’s official website as “Hot Topics”.
Maybe the Attorney General should pay more attention to events happening here in Virginia and less time rabble-rousing on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee.