As Craig R. McCoy and Angela Couloumbis of the Inquirer report, Pennsylvania has become part of a nationwide trend in which law firms recommend to state AG’s which industries to go after. Those same law firms, of course, just so happen to be the ones to get the cases.
For instance, the firm of Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll first made a deal with then-Attorney General Linda Kelly to investigate nursing homes. Attorney General Kathleen Kane continued the deal and approved four similar arrangements.
The idea, according to supporters, is to get the government to encourage cheaper private-sector lawyers to go after those harming the public good.
“But opponents say contracts like the one signed with Cohen Milstein establish troubling ethical incentives at best and, at worst, glaring examples of pay-to-play: Political donors rewarded with exclusive, lucrative government pacts,” McCoy and Couloumbis write.
“Critics say that rather than have disinterested regulators – state employees whose pay increases not one cent if they issue a fine or not – the deals unleash dollar-driven hired guns armed with subpoena power and the prestige of government.”
Complicating the matter is the fact that the ten firms Kane has given no-bid contracts to have contributed over $350,000 to her campaign.
In the contracts the AG’s office agreed to always seek cash settlements from defendants, presumably for the law firm’s benefits, but this provision was recently dropped in the nursing home cases after the organizations filed suit.
Quid pro quo deals in politics are notoriously difficult to prove and this likely wouldn’t be as big an issue if Attorney General Kane was not already dealing with so many other controversies. For now, it’s worth keeping an eye on.