Op-eds and Articles

Real Clear Policy: When State AGs Abuse Their Power

By / 2.22.2016

In recent years, several states have seen their attorneys general mired in some kind of scandal. Pennsylvania is the most recent example. This trend, while disturbing, is not surprising: The role of the state attorney general has evolved over the past 20 years from mere law enforcer to general policymaker. Today, both Democratic and Republican AGs use litigation and the powers of the office to regulate. But with this new responsibility comes new opportunities to breach the public trust.

A particularly alarming development is AGs’ increasing use of private law firms to sue companies under no-bid contracts where the firms get percentages of the settlements or awards. These arrangements were born out of tobacco litigation in the 1990s and have spread to all sorts of actions, leading to several scandals over the connections between AGs and the firms they hire.

A key reform states can enact is the Transparency in Private Attorney Contract (TiPAC) Act. More than a third of the states, often with broad bipartisan support, have enacted TiPAC or similar bills. These laws do not outright ban contracts with private law firms, but they subject the contracts to commonsense regulations. For example, they mandate public bidding, require the posting of contracts on websites, limit attorney’s fees, demand that firms keep appropriate records, and mandate complete control of the litigation by the government.

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