Shine the light on AGs and friends 

Citizens who want to know how thefederal government is spending their tax dollars can go to FedSpending.org, a Web site maintained by the liberal advocacy group OMB Watch. The site shines much-needed light on the federal budget by making it easy to get data on grants and contracts.

Unfortunately, there remain too many dark corners in government at all levels. Among the worst are state attorneys general with multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts to award to friends and political allies.

Exhibit A is California state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who in his previous job as the Golden State’s attorney general concealed more than 1,700 contracts worth in excess of $100 million. When an investigation by The Associated Press loomed, Jerry Brown, Lockyer’s successor as attorney general, took a closer look at 131 contracts and found that only a dozen warranted the confidential classification.

AP now suggests that more than 1,000 of the 1,700-plus contracts classified confidential should have been made public. The confidential classification removed the contracts from the state government’s computer system, thereby effectively putting them beyond California’s open records law.

AP also found evidence that could shed light on why at least some of the contracts that should have been made public weren’t. Lockyer awarded numerous no-bid contracts to law firms, lobbyists and consultants assisting the attorney general with California legal cases. One law firm received a $2 million contract for work on an insurance case. A couple of no-bid contracts worth nearly half a million dollars went to a lobbying firm run by a close Lockyer political ally. Even parking spaces for agency employees were awarded via another no-bid contract worth $1 million.

Here’s the kicker: The Wall Street Journal reports that one of the firms was among Lockyer’s campaign donors and there is evidence that other contracts went to supporters and contributors.

The solution is to shine light on all contracts issued by government unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, such as an ongoing law enforcement investigation, and to award contracts through transparent, competitive processes. The American Legislative Exchange Council and the Institute for Legal Reform are behind a gathering movement supporting measures specifically to require open contracts competitively awarded by attorneys general. Seven states so far have passed versions of the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, and legislators in Mississippi and West Virginia are debating similar measures.

Another reason to make such contracts public is the fact that liberal activist attorneys general such as Lockyer and former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who now sits in the governor’s mansion in Albany, have used the promise of a percentage of awards won as an incentive to private trial lawyers on contract to the state. Their law firms help attorneys general bring cases against honest businesses without adequate resources to defend themselves against unfounded accusations.

Awarding such unaccountable contracts is like throwing chum to hungry sharks. PARSA is the way to put an end to feeding time.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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