Gansler Takes Aim at Corruption Firewall

Attorney General Doug Gansler sure did find a curious way to come out in favor of government efficiency:

As part of his plan to spend less money and make government more efficient, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on Tuesday proposed eliminating the agency that investigates corruption among public officials. 

Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor, called the Office of the State Prosecutor “a holdover from the Watergate era” that overlaps with other law enforcement offices. 

“If a need arises for a special prosecutor, for instance to avoid conflict of interest, one can be temporarily appointed, as Congress does now,” Gansler said in a detailed 16-page plan on how to streamline state spending if he were elected governor. 

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The State Prosecutor, established by a constitutional amendment in 1976, in recent years investigated the theft scandal involving former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, the misconduct case against former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, and campaign finance infractions by state lawmakers. 

Gansler argued that state prosecutors share jurisdiction over corruption and voter fraud cases with the attorney general’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office and state’s attorneys. Eliminating it, he said, would save taxpayers as much as $1.2 million. 

The idea is one small part of a detailed fiscal plan for the state Gansler released Tuesday in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor in the June 24 primary.

Gansler’s full plan, which contains a lot of other details which can be reject later, describes it in similar terms.

As conservatives we are fully in favor of government efficiency, but the idea of eliminating the State Prosecutor’s office is probably one of the craziest idea I have seen in some time. By coming out in support of its elimination, Gansler has decided to cast his lot with the corrupt and the wicked.

It’s important to note why we have a State Prosecutor to start with. Gansler is correct in saying that it does come from the Watergate era, but it was passed not in regards because of that scandal, but due to the never-ending parade of Maryland Elected Officials who were convicted of corruption during the 1970’s. Corruption was so prevalent in the 1970’s that the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland produced a 24-page paper entitled “Spiro Agnew and the Golden Age of Corruption in Maryland.” Here’s an excerpt from the paper, quoting a November 11, 2005 speech by  Washington Post columnist and former Maryland Political Reporter Richard Cohen:

In my days covering Maryland, the Governor [Marvin Mandel] was convicted of corruption – later overturned on appeal – and the former Governor, Spiro Agnew, then the Vice-President  of the United States pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion. Also convicted [on a variety  of charges] were the County Executives of Anne Arundel County [Joseph W. Alton] and  Baltimore County [Dale Anderson], the Baltimore County State’s Attorney [Samuel Green  Jr.], the Congressman from the first district [William O. Mills], a Baltimore State Senator [Clarence Mitchell III], the Speaker of the House [A. Gordon Boone], a U.S. Senator  [Daniel B. Brewster], and a member of the House of Delegates [James A. “Turk” Scott] who was flushed out of the State House by U.S. Marshals because he was wanted on drug charges…

So this Culture of Corruption in Maryland was the genesis of the State Prosecutor’s Office.

According to Prosecutor’s website:

The Office of State Prosecutor was established by Constitutional amendment and legislation in 1976 (Chapter 612, Acts of 1976, ratified Nov. 1976). The State Prosecutor’s Office began operation January, 1977.

The State Prosecutor may investigate on his own initiative, or at the request of the Governor, the Attorney General, the General Assembly, the State Ethics Commission, or a State’s Attorney, certain criminal offenses. These include: 1) State election law violations; 2) State public ethics law violations; 3) State bribery law violations involving public officials or employees; 4) misconduct in office by public officials or employees; and 5) extortion, perjury, or obstruction of justice related to any of the above.

A clear reaction and link to the corruption scandals of the prior years.

The key point about the State Prosecutor is not that idea that somebody can request that the State Prosecutor begin an investigation. It’s the fact that the Prosecutor can began an investigation on their own initiative. The post of State Prosecutor, once confirmed by the State Senate, is basically an independent entity beyond the reach of the Executive and Legislative Branches:

The State Prosecutor is nominated by the State Prosecutor Selection and Disabilities Commission and appointed by the Governor for a term of six years and until his successor is appointed and qualifies. He may be removed only for misconduct in office, persistent failure to perform the duties of the office, or conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice.

And that is a very important firewall against corruption in State Government. There is no political component to the execution of the office of State Prosecutor. The term of the Prosecutor extends beyond the term of an individual governor or an individual General Assembly term. And that’s the point. The entire purpose of the State Prosecutor is to not be subject to the political whims of the Governor and of the General Assembly. They do not risk being fired by the Governor or removed by the General Assembly for making logical decisions to investigate or prosecute public officials for their behavior. They have the discretion to do what is best and what is necessary to protect the public trust. Public officials who have found themselves being investigate by the office in recent years include former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, both of whom resigned in disgrace after their prosecutions.

So why does Doug Gansler not believe that such a position has value? Gansler notes that the office of the Special Prosecutor shares jurisdiction with the Attorney General, the State’s Attorney’s, and the U.S. Attorneys. But so what? U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President and the U.S. Attorney General and are inherently political positions, often filled by politically connected or politically active attorneys. The Attorney General and the 24 various State’s Attorneys are elected officials themselves, individuals who are inherently partisan and wear their partisanship on their sleeves.

Given the political nature of his tenure as Attorney General, does anybody truly think that Doug Gansler would have prosecuted corruption in an independent and fair manner?

Gansler’s idea to seek elimination of the State Prosecutor seems to have little to do with efficiency in government and everything to do with covering the backside of Democrats in Annapolis. Gansler has never been the type to go along to get along with the Democratic establishment, but this certainly seems like a way to inoculate himself with those folks in a way that allows everybody to have their backsides protected. Nobody can realistically argue that there aren’t better ways to save $1.2 million than by eliminating the one office in State Government that is dedicated to rooting out the corruption that has run rampant in State Government.

I look forward to hearing Doug Gansler’s explanation as to why he wants to make life easier for those in offices of public trust who want to engage in corruption in our state.

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