by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / August 16, 2011
We recently touched on mayor candidate Nathan Fletcher’s transparently unethical hiring practices, paying for campaign staff with taxpayer dollars. Today we turn the spotlight to another mayoral candidate, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
The most obvious ethics question facing the Dumanis campaign is also rather superficial, at least on its face. The official government site for the District Attorney’s office and the Dumanis campaign website have significantly overlapping biographies for Dumanis. In fact, entire paragraphs appear on both sites verbatim, raising a number of red flags.
First and foremost, if staff time and resources went into writing this bio and now entire chunks of it are being used for the campaign, it’s the same sort of fundamental misappropriation of taxpayer dollars for personal gain that Nathan Fletcher is doing on a larger scale. If it’s the other way around, and the campaign wrote the bio and then the official government site picked it up, then Dumanis is using the District Attorney website as an extension of the campaign, reinforcing messaging and playing politics with the county’s judicial system. Heck, the DA’s website even has a copyright notice at the bottom of the bio page. I mean c’mon, there’s no de facto coordination going on?
In either scenario, there’s an uncomfortable overlap between campaigning and managing prosecutions. If Dumanis isn’t drawing a bright line between the two arenas, then why shouldn’t the public worry that she’s also picking cases based on how they’ll play in the electorate? And that doesn’t just mean cases that will make her look better as a candidate or even cases that will shift the electoral landscape. It also means pursuing or avoiding cases based on how it would impact other candidates, their messaging, their platforms, their various bases of political strength or potential weaknesses.
If Dumanis sees her responsibilities as District Attorney and her role as a mayoral candidate to be overlapping, if using the same resources and messaging in both areas doesn’t pose an ethical problem for her, then why wouldn’t we assume that she’s also perfectly capable of using the full power of the DA’s office specifically to her political advantage?
Now, Dumanis has certainly never shied away from the spotlight, or from delving into political issues from the District Attorney’s office. The bio(s) trumpet the District Attorney’s role in pressing for the passage of Jessica’s Law to an outspoken opposition to state law permitting certain uses of medical marijuana, Dumanis has a clear record of trying to both enforce and create the law.
But it turns out that Jessica’s Law was written so that it doesn’t actually function in practice and her staunch stance against medical marijuana is now tripping over a city council that can’t afford to hold elections, which highlights the essential tension of trying to get elected on creating laws while being paid to enforce the law. One or the other almost always will end up being more powerful.
Ideally, a district attorney is elected or re-elected based on how effectively cases are prosecuted and how fairly justice is applied. There will still be campaigning, and as a result there will still be elements of electoral politics that creep into the equation. But when a supposedly non-political officeholder starts bucking for a decidedly political office, that balancing act is often threatened.
In Bonnie Dumanis’ case, all appearances indicate that her personal political aspirations have taken the upper hand. The scary question then is just how long ago did Dumanis make up her mind to run for higher office? More specifically, how long has Bonnie Dumanis been using the DA’s office — and its taxpayer-funded resources — to run for mayor?