Last month, in a 689-word column attacking the Bush administration’s politicizing of the Justice Department, I included a 39-word slam on Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
I didn’t note, as the conventions of journalism apparently require, that Tim Nelson, one of the two Democrats vying for the nomination to oppose Thomas in November, is married to one of my law partners, and that I’ve contributed to his campaign. (29 more words)
Even a part-time opinion columnist needs to make these disclosures in print, even though you can search my political contributions at several Web sites, and my partner is listed on both on our firm and the Arizona Corporation Commission Web sites, too. But I knew it, I blew it, and if I caused Bob Satnan or Le Templar any embarrassment, I regret it because it was my fault, not theirs.
But this disclosure business is truly odd, because I apparently needn’t disclose that I’ve known Tim Nelson longer than I’ve known his wife; he volunteered for my 1994 campaign. I apparently don’t need to disclose that my wife, who has a different last name, contributed to Tim’s campaign.
I also apparently didn’t need to disclose that I worked for Terry Goddard when he was mayor of Phoenix 24 years ago, even if six years ago Goddard’s opponent for state Attorney General was Andrew Thomas.
For his part, Thomas doesn’t need to disclose anything, apparently. He first ran for county attorney in a crowded GOP primary and got the coveted Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsement, which is a pretty significant political debt to carry. But any time Thomas does Arpaio’s bidding, he needn’t disclose that. Such a world we live in, where standards for part-time opinion columnists are stricter than for public prosecutors!
These conventions give you exactly the information you don’t need. Do you seriously think I’d be happy with Thomas’ job performance if only Tim’s spouse worked elsewhere? But you might want to be reminded of Arpaio’s endorsement in understanding why Thomas gave the investigation of New Times for publishing his home address demanded by Arpaio to outside lawyer Dennis Wilenchik.
Then when the public learned of the investigation’s “breathtaking abuse of the Constitution” (that’s New Times’s phrase, but given that Wilenchik had them arrested, they get the call), Thomas — suddenly free of his supposed conflict that required him to send the case to Wilenchik originally — halted the investigation.
So, did Thomas have a conflict (in which case he shouldn’t decide whether to drop it) or not have a conflict (in which case he shouldn’t have sent out the case to his former employer)? Or did he really think that the case wasn’t worth pursuing — but Andrew Thomas has too big a political debt to Arpaio to say “no,” so he referred it out? Now that you might want to know.
Thomas and his chief lieutenant, Barnett Lotstein, also think I have a “conflict” in writing about Thomas because I’m a friend of Gov. Janet Napolitano and my law firm has done work for the state. Lotstein says that Napolitano is Thomas’s political enemy, and anybody close to the Napolitano administration can’t ethically write an opinion column about Thomas because he and she are such bitter political rivals.
Whether Napolitano sees things that way isn’t the point; Thomas and Lotstein see Napolitano as a political threat. Yet they see no problem in using their office’s powers against the Napolitano administration. Just to name two, Thomas and Lotstein announced criminal investigations of the state Veterans Home, and that they would sue the state over shifting funding from Arpaio (there he is again!) to a statewide fugitive task force. Napolitano is such a bitter enemy that as her supporter I can’t write about Thomas — but Thomas can investigate her at will.
So let me disclose: that makes absolutely no sense. Imagine for a moment Andrew Thomas announcing a criminal investigation of a political ally. Do it quickly, though; I wouldn’t want your head to explode.
Do you miss Alberto Gonzales? You shouldn’t. We’ve got Andrew Thomas!