Columns » Max Brantley

Lawman McDaniel

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Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is a strutting contradiction. He's capable of making tough, principled decisions.

He opposed the ballot amendment to discriminate against gay couples. He declined to join the bashing of President Obama's health care legislation. He dispatched staff members to note — properly — the likely unconstitutionality of a batch of anti-abortion bills offered by the Religious Right in the last legislative session. Just this week, he called the hand of the xenophobic Tea Party Republican, Rep. Jon Hubbard, for trying to stir hate over McDaniel's modest website outreach to Spanish-speaking people.

But as his bid for governor in 2014 grows nearer, McDaniel is capable of baser stuff. His demagoguery of the Little Rock school case beats anything since the man who started it all, Orval Faubus. He's stood up legally for actions that promote segregation in Pulaski County, the kind of thing that earned the state worldwide condemnation and court rebuke. He doesn't miss a chance to prove his gun advocacy. McDaniel, a former cop, is probably sincere in his nuttery, though it's not likely to assuage an NRA suspicious of him on account of his father's lawsuit against gun manufacturers following the Westside school slaughter.

He's also a shameless publicity hound. Where other attorneys general went after polluting, rapacious utilities and major Medicaid fraud schemes, McDaniel has been less willing to take on entrenched powers. Instead, he's himself a police force against Internet sex criminals. It's an area not short in investigators. What's worse, McDaniel made himself a sex crimes cop by self-appropriating state money won in a class action lawsuit for unrelated matters.

He did another personal appropriation last week. He directed $700,000 from money won from drug companies for overcharges to build a classroom at the State Police shooting range. Guns? Cops? How could he lose?

Here's how. McDaniel was determined to announce his gift at a State Police awards lunch, even if it stepped on a speech by Gov. Mike Beebe. He was determined even though he was in Hawaii on a family vacation/legal meeting. So he spent $6,000 in taxpayers' money to commission a video of himself announcing the gift. This grandiose gesture will come back to haunt him in 2014.

The video and gift were questionable for more than the obvious use of the state's money for campaign advertising. In the video, McDaniel took a swipe at legislators who've objected to his appropriation of so-called "cash funds" from lawsuit settlements rather than running the money through the legislature. There's a mixed line of court cases on whether this is legal. McDaniel likes the line that supports his activities, naturally.

But McDaniel brayed to State Police that the court order — he writes these orders in consent decrees for himself, of course — allowed his action. Really? Here's what the drug company decree said about spending the money:

"The state of Arkansas's portion of this settlement shall be deposited into the attorney general's consumer education and enforcement fund and be held in trust there to be used by the attorney general in his discretion to further efforts to investigate and prosecute consumer protection, environmental, public utilities and antitrust matters, and to educate consumers regarding such matters."

Do you see a mention of State Police or shooting ranges? I don't. Asked to explain, a spokesman for McDaniel would only say, "Obviously we believe this distribution is consistent with the consent judgment." It's not so obvious to me. Perhaps a taxpayer with a lawsuit could pry more explanation from the state's lawman.

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