The glowing profile of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt published on NewsOK.com Monday leaves out a major component about his recent work that concerns his critics.
That major component is simply that Pruitt has, along with some other Republican attorneys general throughout the nation, turned his office into an unprecedented political operation to oppose President Barack Obama.
All political offices are, well, political, that goes almost without saying, but a state attorney general, even more so than a governor, should stand above political gamesmanship and make accurate and beneficial decisions based on prevailing laws for all constituents, not just supporters.
That hasn’t been the case with Pruitt, who seems obsessed with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), the recently enacted health care law. Perhaps, we’re entering a new era in which attorneys general are simply legal conduits for partisan politics and de facto legal advisors for specific campaigns, but that hardly makes it a welcome development. Much of the work of an attorney general office—defending the state against lawsuits and protecting consumers from fraud, for example—is and should be mundane. It should also be bipartisan.
The gist of the article, written by longtime local reporter Randy Ellis, is that Pruitt is gaining a “national reputation for his Don Quixote-like advocacy of federalism and relentless efforts to challenge any federal law or action that he sees as an infringement on individual liberties or states' rights.” That description goes pretty much unchallenged in the article, which has to be viewed as a biased and blatant attempt to give Pruitt cover for his unorthodox actions.
In fact, the only real proof the article offers that he’s developing a national reputation about anything at all is that he “serves as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association,” which obviously is a political organization.
As attorney general, Pruitt has sued the federal government—along with other attorneys general—to prevent the individual mandate of the ACA from taking effect. He’s sued the Environmental Protection Agency over antipollution standards he believes are too strict. (Note the above video. Doesn’t it show obvious bias?) He also turned down more than $10 million in a foreclosure settlement among states and companies that would have helped victims of unscrupulous mortgage practices because of “his view of the proper role of the Attorney General's Office.”
The suits against Obamacare and the EPA clearly raise the issue of how much taxpayer money is getting spent to solely defend and promote a conservative ideology. Pruitt’s refusal to accept the mortgage settlement money is simply a case of placing ideology above the day-to-day interests of some Oklahomans.
But according to Pruitt opposing the federal government is his main job:
It's all about making sure the enumerated powers — the limited powers that are vested in the federal government — are there. And if there is an expansion or overreach beyond that, the states step in. That's exactly the role, I would say, of the modern-day AG.
One has to wonder if Pruitt would be making this same argument if a Republican was president. This is my own speculation, but I seriously doubt it.
As you might expect, there are many people who disagree with Pruitt, though you wouldn’t know that by reading the article, which is a perfect example of how The Oklahoman newspaper (NewsOK.com is its web site) continues to use its news columns to promote a conservative agenda.
A Reuters article, for example, noted back in April that Republican attorneys general were becoming more politicized than ever.
While it is not uncommon for attorneys general to try to use the courts to advance the priorities of their own political party, lawyers on both sides say the newer crop of Republicans - particularly the core nine who organized the Mayflower news conference - are more tightly coordinated and often more vocal about their political goals than Republican attorneys general have been in the past.
Pruitt, of course, is one of the “core nine”, who organized a news conference in March to express conservative world views.
The Reuters article also contains this:
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in an email that the Republican lawsuits against the administration amount to an "unprecedented wave of politically motivated litigation." He questioned how much it might be costing taxpayers.
This is the most important point. Pruitt and some of his fellow Republican attorneys generals have been using taxpayer money in a political effort to attack the Obama administration and, by extension, to influence the presidential election this November. One might argue whether this is acceptable or not, but it can hardly be considered some noble effort on behalf of principled stances related to federalism.
It’s difficult to discern what Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt gained politically by opting out of a massive national bank settlement dealing with the mortgage crisis and striking his own deal for the state.
Obviously, some people, including the writer of this New York Observer article, are questioning whether Pruitt sold out Oklahomans to curry favor with the banking, insurance and real estate industries, which were heavy contributors to his 2010 campaign.
The $25 billion settlement between five major mortgage providers--Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial—and 49 out of 50 of the nation’s state attorney generals was announced this week. Pruitt, a Republican and the lone holdout, made his own deal for $18.6 million to help homeowners here who might have been subjected to unscrupulous lending practices.
Is that enough money? Would Oklahoma have received more if Pruitt would have agreed to the settlement terms? Is it fair that Oklahomans might receive less money than people in Arkansas, which will receive a projected $39.4 million from the settlement? (Oklahoma has a larger population than Arkansas.)
The Observer notes one of Pruitt’s arguments against the settlement was “that what started as an effort to correct specific practices harmful to consumers, morphed into an attempt by President Obama to establish an overarching regulatory scheme, which Congress had previously rejected, to fundamentally restructure the mortgage industry in the United States.” Another argument Pruitt has made, according to the article, is that the settlement was unfair to homeowners who continued to make mortgage payments during the housing crisis despite a decline in property value.
Note the criticism of Obama. Also, Pruitt hasn’t yet presented any evidence that there’s a groundswell of opposition here to the settlement from homeowners who believe they’re being treated unfairly.
So, again, it’s difficult to see what Pruitt gains politically here. The financial, insurance and real estate industries donated about $175,000 to his 2010 campaign, according to The Observer article, but is that what really motivated him?
If we view it as a principled stance, how much should Pruitt’s conservative ideology and his concerns with the current presidential administration influence his decision process as attorney general? Shouldn’t Pruitt put Oklahomans above ideology in this case and get as much financial relief as possible for those people hurt by the mortgage crisis? Does Pruitt’s decision open up the state to possible class-action litigation?