States Attorneys General For Sale

Seems like wrongdoing in the Republican Party these days is not just limited to the White House - it extends throughout the party, from top to bottom. Whether it's Bush & Co lying about weapons of mass destruction and yellowcake uranium from Niger, or San Diego millionaire Darrel Issa hiring professional out-of-state signature-gatherers to bring a measure to recall elected Governor Gray Davis to the ballot in California, the Republicans are unafraid to do and say whatever it takes to get what they want. Lying, cheating, stealing - these seem to be the three foundations which the modern Republican Party is built on. (My apologies to the good Republicans out there, but why are you letting these crooks run your party?)

So why should I be surprised by this?:

Republican attorneys general in at least six states telephoned corporations or trade groups that were subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, according to internal fundraising documents.

One of the documents mentions potential state actions against health maintenance organizations and suggests the attorneys general should "start targeting the HMO's" for fundraising.

It also cites a news article about consolidation and regulation of insurance firms and states that "this would be a natural area for us to focus on raising money."

All the attorneys general were members of the Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). The companies they solicited included some of the nation's largest tobacco, pharmaceutical, computer, energy, banking, liquor, insurance and media concerns; many have been targeted in product liability lawsuits or regulations by state governments.

The documents describe direct calls the attorneys general made, for example, to representatives of Pfizer Inc., MasterCard Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos., Citigroup Inc., Amway Corp., U.S. Steel Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., General Motors Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Shell Oil Co., among others.

They also make clear that RAGA assigned attorneys general to make calls to companies with business and legal interests in their own states.

One of those soliciting funds between 1999 and 2001, according to the documents, was Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr., a pending nominee by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and a founder of the organization.

Sources said that a former RAGA employee recently turned some of the fundraising documents over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote today on his nomination. A source who asked not to be named provided the documents to the Washington Post.

Other attorneys general mentioned in the documents include then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley; Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady; then-South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon; then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, who now represents Texas in the Senate, and then-Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

"This is incredibly tawdry," said Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, an independent group that highlights the connection between money and politics.

"That famous statue of the lady of justice with the blindfold -- this kind of throws that out the window. There is an incredible mercenary element to this that implies that policy is bought and sold and not done . . . based on public interest and public need."

All funds collected by RAGA were passed to the Republican National Committee -- without any public link to the attorneys general who made the solicitations -- and then disbursed to campaigns by the attorneys general and other candidates around the country, according to the documents. The group does not file public financial disclosure statements.

The executive director of RAGA, Tim Barnes, said the actions described in the documents preceded his tenure with the group and that he was unfamiliar with them. But he said that "certain Republican attorney generals assist us in our fund-raising efforts."