The Political Establishment v. Ken Cuccinelli

Predictably, The Washington Post, the Washington establishment's newspaper of record, endorsed the Democratic candidate for Virginia Attorney General in the upcoming November 3rd election. Despite previously praising Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate, for his principled independence even from his own party, The Post worries that Ken Cuccinelli "would treat the job of attorney general as an ideological crusade."

WaPo wouldn't object, however, if the AG candidate were a liberal crusader. You see, it has been Democratic attorneys general who redefined, and many say, abused, their positions as chief legal officers of their respective states for ideological -- indeed highly partisan -- purposes. WaPo has always seemed to like, if not outright support, liberal AG crusaders.

The term for what Democratic attorneys general have done in the name of liberal causes is called "Spitzerism." That comes from the title of Noam Scheiber's October 2, 2005 New York Times analysis of the political implications of the tactics used by former New York attorney general, come-now-disgraced former governor, Eliot Spitzer.

There's an unseemly side to how liberals transformed the position of state attorney general. Democratic AGs, following Mr. Spitzer's lead, employed questionable theories and bases for investigations and litigation to coerce, some say extort, individuals, businesses and industries to behave in ways that laws could not command. Defendants often settled with the AGs rather than going through protracted and expensive litigation.

Regardless of the merits of the litigation, the filing of such lawsuits, accompanied by grandiose news conferences and press releases by the AGs, often sullied both personal and business reputations. The lawsuits themselves tended to drive down the value of publicly owned businesses even before the outcomes.

Many Democratic AGs employed Spitzerism for partisan, political advantage, and as platforms for eventual runs for higher office. In settling their lawsuits or under threat of imposing fines, AGs have too often arranged for companies to pay money to the AGs' favorite ideological causes, many of which have political action committees or ground troops for get-out-the-vote.

In Minnesota, for example, former Democratic AG Mike Hatch settled one case for a mere one dollar below the legal threshold requiring all settlement proceeds be paid to the state. In doing so, he arranged for $249,999 of settlement proceeds to be paid to ACORN. ACORN PAC had endorsed Mr. Hatch for AG and in his gubernatorial bid.

Besides ACORN PAC's candidate endorsements, ACORN itself issued a report in 2008, "Attorneys General Take Action: Real Leadership in Fighting Foreclosures," in which it issued grades of A+ to six AGs, all Democrats. We are still learning more about the role of ACORN and Democratic attorneys general in the housing market collapse, but ACORN clearly worked side by side with Democratic AGs in their mutually beneficial legal and political ventures. And, we know ACORN has been very active in questionable if not fraudulent voter registration that these AGs should be prosecuting, not benefiting from.

By working with and aiding other leftwing causes ranging from environmental groups to anti-traditional family causes, using coercive lawsuits to funnel settlement proceeds to these groups, or even using taxpayer money like a political slush fund, it has been liberal attorneys general who have redefined the role of the states' chief law enforcement officials. They are a strong arm of the Democratic Party, and their reward has often been upward mobility in the Party.

Liberal AGs, not conservative ones, expanded the reach of both federal and state powers, and not always in ways consistent with the law or the federal or respective state Constitutions. But that gave them political power and fundraising prowess with corporations and special interests. In describing how Democratic AGs used their offices for raw political power, Mr. Scheiber wrote in 2005, "[Spitzerism] tapped into a ‘political goldmine' and could ‘help lead the Democrats out of the political wilderness.'"

Therefore, it is quite curious that WaPo claims the candidate for Virginia attorney general, the one who favors limited government powers consistent with the Constitution, is the one who might abuse those powers. Ken Cuccinelli is actually the anti-Spitzerism attorney general candidate.

The biggest contributor to Cuccinelli's opponent (to the tune of $300,000 so far) is a 527 organization, the Democratic Attorney Generals Association (DAGA), which itself is funded largely by unions, trial lawyers and corporations.

His opponent is therefore a big beneficiary of the fruits of Spitzerism, which is a strong indication DAGA sees the Democratic candidate as of that mold. In fact, his opponent attended DAGA's September meeting, which included one panel on "tools" for AGs with an environmental agenda and another on marriage "equality" and civil unions. Both panels featured liberal activist and litigation speakers.

Ken Cuccinelli has campaigned on themes of limited, constitutional government. His record speaks volumes for his conservative principles. He has said quite clearly he will enforce constitutional laws in a constitutional way. That alone distinguishes him even from some other Republican AGs who are afraid to challenge unconstitutional laws passed, even if not read, by legislators and chief executives.

Cuccinelli is a conservative who doesn't fit the preconceived notions of what the Washington establishment thinks of conservatives. If limited, constitutional government is an ideological crusade that worries the political establishment, which includes The Washington Post, then indeed they should fear him.

Ken Cuccinelli is that rare breed of politician who fights for principle, but recognizes the well-defined, appropriate and important limitations on political power. The thing is, as principled as Cuccinelli is, he works easily across political divides. That makes him an enigma to the political establishment.