If one’s only point of reference were Eric Holder, one might get the impression that the job of an attorney general is to use the influence and power of the office to pursue the executive’s political and policy objectives. That is not what an attorney general is supposed to do, however, because the top lawyer of a city, a state or the U.S. is pledged to represent all the people, not just those who patronize a particular party, and the top lawyer’s client is not the executive, but the entire government entity. If that entity becomes corrupt, then the client becomes the public that is being betrayed.
Maine’s Attorney General Janet Mills illustrated how the job should be done and can be, if the lawyer holding it is ethical and not merely a serving as a political yes-man. Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, wanted to appeal the federal government’s denial of his request to remove about 6,000 low-income young adults, 19- and 20-year olds, from Maine’s Medicaid program. Normally the Attorney General would handle the litigation, but Mills refused, insisting that it was a case that could not be won, and would waste state resources. Excellent.
LePage went forward anyway, using his “contingency fund” to hire outside counsel, who were happy to accept $51,918 to tilt at a windmill. Sure enough and as Mills predicted, the appeal failed.
Meanwhile Mills, on behalf of the state, joined the feds in opposition to the law suit. This means that she didn’t turn down the governor only because she thought the case was a loser. She also obviously thought the Governor’s position was wrong: she’s a Democrat, after all. This is where she loses her Ethics Hero halo, as it is obliterated by Ethics Duncedom. She refused to waste the state’s money on a lawsuit she believed was near-frivolous, and that was proper. But if it was so hopeless, why did she feel that it was appropriate to spend taxpayer funds opposing it?She opposed it to make Democrats and Affordable Care Act fans happy, and perhaps to build support for her own political ambitions. That’s not an ethical use of her office.
Mills countered criticism of her active role in fighting the appeal, saying that none of the actions her office took “increased the administration’s fees or involvement in the case.” Deceit. Obviously her office’s participation cost taxpayer’s something: she doesn’t work for free. Her defense is misleading. Sure, the fact that the Attorney General joined in the litigation on the other side probably didn’t make the appeal more costly to the administration (that is, the Governor and his discretionary funds), but it did increase costs to the state.
Well, that Ethics Hero didn’t last long.