Idaho attorney general must be free of conflicts of interest
One of the Idaho Attorney General’s most important responsibilities is to protect consumers from scammers and other operators who cause harm to Idahoans. When I took over the office of the AG in 1983, the consumer protection division, which had been started by Tony Park and Wayne Kidwell, no longer existed. It took a lot of time and effort to get it back up and running. From that time until today, the AG’s office has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and its consumers from those who mislead Idahoans or cause public harm. This successful effort was largely due to Lawrence Wasden’s relentless action against tobacco, vaping, and opioid manufacturers.
Over the years, companies that break laws to protect the public have tried to curry favor with state AGs across the country, hoping to avoid prosecution. Contributions to campaigns are a tool of choice for these operators. In order to avoid abusive entanglements and conflicts of interest, GA candidates should be on the lookout for suspicious contributions and refuse to accept them. The AG is Idaho’s chief attorney and must lead by example in acting ethically.
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It was surprising to see some of the contributions that went to Attorney General candidate Raul Labrador. They come from suspicious organizations that pose a real conflict of interest for the GA office. Accepting contributions from them evokes the truism of the old German proverb, “whose bread I eat, I sing its song”.
Labrador has banked money from two payday loan companies that charge grossly inflated interest and have a history of mistreating borrowers. Advance Financial Administrators LLC, of Nashville, Tennessee, donated $2,000 to Labrador on August 31. This payday lender charged a maximum annual rate of 360% in some of the states where it operates. The Better Business Bureau of Nashville has a long list of complaints against the company on its website. A notice posted on the Consumer Affairs website by a Wisconsin couple complains that they “pay more than $1,000 a month for a $4,000 loan and with each statement the balance increases.”
Another payday lender, RS, LLC, of Red Rock, Oklahoma, paid Labrador $2,500 on Aug. 31. He is related to the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma. The organization engaged in a scheme to abuse the tribe’s sovereign immunity to protect payday lenders from lawsuits for abusive lending practices, including interest rates of up to 560%. A lending entity run by the group, American Web Loan, had to return $141 million as part of a class action settlement.
Another troubling contribution to the Labrador campaign was a $5,000 payment received from the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor on July 31. The firm specializes in defending businesses against lawsuits brought by state attorneys general to protect their citizens from consumer fraud and other business practices. The company has a habit of cultivating gullible state AGs in order to gain influence and privileged treatment, which does not serve the interests of the consuming public.
Labrador may not understand that these contributors are trying to curry favor. He must immediately return these gifts because they create an obvious conflict of interest. The AG must extend undivided loyalty to the people of Idaho and avoid support from interests outside the state that would victimize Idaho consumers or endanger public health with dangerous products such as tobacco, opioids, etc.
Jim Jones is a Vietnam veteran who served eight years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as an Idaho Supreme Court Justice (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill’s online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater.