Political UpdateOctober 12th, 2010

As I may have mentioned just after I quit politics a few months ago, I’m a candidate for Connecticut attorney general, appearing on the ballot for the Green Party and the Independent Party. In responding to questionnaires from newspapers and various other purveyors of political information, I noticed that I’m producing a considerable volume of invective. I thought readers might be interested to read some of the questions and answers.

The Reminder, an advertising paper published in Rockville, let me go on for 300 words about myself. Here’s their questionnaire along with my answers:

NAME: Stephen Fournier
PARTY AFFILIATION: Green Party and Independent Party

YOUR BACKGROUND: (300 words or fewer, please)

A member of the Connecticut bar since 1978, I closed my law practice last year when the real estate market collapsed. I am considered an outspoken writer and critic, and my essays, circulated to email subscribers, appear online at www.currentinvective.com. I have appeared from time to time on Hartford Public Access Television, discussing current events on a program entitled “Green Vision.” I am a self-taught computer programmer and have had a presence on the Internet since 1995 at www.stepfour.com. I collect a monthly Social Security pension and work part-time in food service for the Portland public schools.

I’m a lifelong Hartford resident and a graduate of Hartford Public High School, as are all three of my children. I am married to the former Ruth Tomasko, of Manchester. We met at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. We dote on our five grandchildren, and I often remark that my political involvement is motivated by my concern for their future.

In 1995, I was elected to the Hartford Board of Education. I served a portion of a four-year term, resigning in protest over corruption on the part of several of my fellow board members. Soon after my resignation, that board was dissolved by the Connecticut General Assembly because of gross mismanagement.

Throughout my years as an attorney, and from the time of my discharge in 1970 from the U.S. Air Force, where I served as a foreign language specialist, I have been active in the antiwar movement and in the movement for social justice. This involvement drew me eventually to the candidacy of Ralph Nader in 1996 and to the Green Party, just then organizing in Connecticut. I served two terms as state Green Party co-chair and was the party’s 2008 nominee for U. S. House of Representatives in the First District.

1. What methods would you employ to make Connecticut a more business-friendly state?

As attorney general, I would make our state friendlier to business by making it less friendly to racketeering government and racketeering enterprise. It’s impossible to compete by legitimate means when standards of conduct degenerate to the levels now tolerated by the crooks that govern us.

Take the example of British Petroleum, often cited as one of the worst companies in the world. Millions of gallons of BP oil now pollute US waters because of a racket involving highly-placed federal officials and influential oil men, including the top brass of BP. Gratuities, promises of employment, even sexual favors were showered on regulators. In exchange, oil executives were allowed to police their own compliance with safety standards.

Corruption may well have made the Gulf states more attractive to predators like BP, but it also put those states off-limits to legitimate business. The state attorney general must be able and willing to bring down racketeering enterprise and racketeering government, even when powerful people are arrayed in opposition.

2. Health insurance rates are out of control. What, if anything, can be done to rein them in?

The attorney general has a part to play in keeping down health care costs. Individuals and companies that profit from health care have a strong incentive to maintain cash flow and no incentive to hold down costs. Waste, fraud and abuse, commonplace wherever large amounts of money pass through many hands, are a particular problem in health care administration and health care financing because there is little policing by insurers, hospitals, labs and other profitable components of the health-care industry.

The attorney general can keep vigilant for instances of waste, fraud and abuse that are least likely to be uncovered by private enterprise and bring suit against wrongdoers. The office of the attorney general has been effective in this function, and I would continue its work and make whatever improvements circumstances require.

3. In your opinion, is the Department of Children & Families (DCF) running effectively, or are there further changes that need to take place in that department?

Problems with the Department of Children and Families arise out of an unfortunate confluence of politics with social work. The agency has customarily been led by people whose political connections far outstrip their talents as care-givers or administrators.

The decisions these officials make from day to day tend to be driven by political considerations and not always by concern for families in crisis. Bad administrative judgments tend to demoralize the actual care-givers, all to the detriment of the population being served.

In a politicized atmosphere, merit often goes unrecognized, and career growth tends to be reserved for sycophants and yes-men. This guarantees a cycle of malfeasance and deterioration in the quality of the service provided. DCF is not the only agency suffering under this regime.

An independent attorney general can provide guidance to administrators who want to shield care-givers and other civil servants from politics.

4. What can the Attorney General’s office do to assist homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure?

The attorney general’s office can intervene on behalf of people victimized by predatory bankers. I have acted as signing agent in hundreds of mortgage transactions, and I’ve seen numerous deals that would present a problem for the foreclosure court.

I’ve seen borrowers in trouble–they didn’t usually tell me why, but death, marital breakdown, unemployment, and illness were often apparent from the documents–pay ten or fifteen thousand dollars in fees out of the proceeds of a loan that yields them nothing but respite from creditors.

A few lenders sent me out with documents showing a bottom line to the borrower that was thousands of dollars short of the amount expected. Some of these people, when I advised them not to sign, felt they had no choice and took the deal anyway.

“I thought this was a fixed-rate loan,” a borrower might complain.

“For three years,” I’d answer, “then variable. Better call the loan broker. ” Who would not be there, most often.

I’ve seen huge disparities between the deals obtained by people with exemplary credit and people with average ratings. The people who are financing a cruise or a swimming pool borrow at rates far below those who are barely making their “nut” every month. The theory is that the bank bears less risk and so can afford to offer better terms. It might easily be mistaken for poor people subsidizing the credit of comfortable people.

I quit conducting transactions for a couple of lenders, and I eventually became persona non grata with all of them. One lender wanted me to backdate documents. I sent an email to the attorney general on that one, but I never heard back. In my attorney general’s office we would try to anticipate the next banking scam and nip it in the bud.

5. What, if anything, do you think can be done to keep public utility costs from becoming prohibitive?

Electric rate deregulation in Connecticut was a bad idea, as most of its proponents now concede. The attorney general’s office should reveal the inequities and sources of waste, fraud and abuse in the current system and recommend a reform that re-imposes the regulation of rates, that facilitates the conversion to publicly-owned plants and that incorporates practical incentives for conservation of resources.

6. What do you see as the number one responsibility of the job you are seeking?

The attorney general must act as a check on the power of corruption. Standards have been degraded in a process we refer to euphemistically as “lowering the bar” or just “dumbing down.” Maybe it’s the constant stream of advertising or maybe it’s the steady diet of gossip and violence we get from our news media, but for whatever reason, we have abandoned our values.

Because corruption feeds on itself and vice invariably replaces virtue wherever it is allowed to thrive, we find ourselves in a cycle of social disintegration—engaged in aggressive warfare, assailed by lawlessness, the threat of joblessness, and the constant specter of ignorance, superstition and bigotry, and resigned sadly to all of it.

The people of Connecticut don’t have to tolerate the conditions that brought us to this low point. Ours is an enlightened population that knows when it’s been clipped. The evidence of malfeasance, disinformation, and other breaches of trust is all around us. Individual citizens can’t sue the parties responsible for this mess, but an independent attorney general can.

The Hartford Courant, too busy covering gossip to conduct an actual interview, wanted to know about my top three issues. They got this (as did the New London Day, in nearly the same words):

1. Government corruption and abuse of authority

Our federal government spies on us, censors the news, interferes with our right to dissent, wages war illegally, tortures prisoners, and depletes the public treasury without limit or accountability, all in defiance of our laws. At any given time, there is a host of mayors, governors, members of Congress and lesser officials answering accusations of bribery and abuse of power, usually without a significant risk of criminal prosecution. In Connecticut and across the country, Democrats and Republicans have apportioned graft and patronage so neatly that corrupt practice is mostly taken for granted in the public sector.

When it comes to holding public officials accountable for malfeasance, our state leadership has been a dead thing, capitulating to such grievous abuses of authority as the illegal deployment of our state militia for the armed occupation of foreign countries. State attorneys general can and should act in concert to end such abuses of authority. The attorney general should welcome complaints from government whistleblowers and people hurt by government corruption and pursue aggressively any and all crooked officials, regardless of party and regardless of office.

2. Injustice

Equality before the law has ceased to be an objective of government. Legal proceedings are biased in favor of the rich and powerful. High quality public education is rationed in a way that favors children of privilege and leaves the least fortunate pupils illiterate and unprepared for the rigors of life. Health care is reserved for the highest-paid segment of the workforce. Public policy leaves the poor to bear a disproportionate share of the burdens of everyday living. Between late-payment penalties, up-front check-cashing fees, usurious interest on petty indebtedness, excessive bail bonds, for-profit jails, and similar schemes to bleed the vulnerable, it’s become easy to make a fortune exploiting the misfortune of others.

Workers lucky enough to have jobs earn far less than the value of their labor, and the unemployed are reduced to desperation, thereby keeping workers in constant fear for their livelihood. In spite of the social dislocations that accompany poverty, irresponsible government has increased the gap between the rich and poor and concentrated wealth in fewer and fewer hands. An independent attorney general could advocate humane public policy and protect the underprivileged from predation at the hands of greedy private parties and unscrupulous government officials.

3. Environmental degradation

Millions of gallons of oil now pollute US waters because of a racket involving highly-placed federal officials and influential businessmen. Gratuities, promises of employment, even sexual favors were showered on regulators. In exchange, oil executives were allowed to police their own compliance with safety standards. In minerals recovery, manufacturing, power generation, corporate agriculture, construction, and waste management, the federal government has been quick to respond to polluting industry’s plea for relaxed standards. In an almost seamless transition, Democrats have continued most of the policies of the Republicans they replaced, bowing to polluters’ demands in more ways than voters can count. It’s left to the states and the courts to protect Americans from pollution, and the attorney general must be a potent force in bringing polluters to account.

In Connecticut, we have had some relief—the outgoing attorney general has made interstate air pollution a priority—but it hasn’t been enough to guarantee a safe and healthful environment for our children and grandchildren. On the contrary, most natural scientists now predict ecological catastrophe if we continue on the present course. The huge legal gap left by federal inaction makes an independent attorney general an absolute necessity.

Along with questionnaire responses, I put together a bit of invective for the Internal Revenue Service, by way of a complaint about the League of Women Voters. It’s self-explanatory:

In qualifying candidates to participate in debates it sponsors, the League of Women Voters of Connecticut Educational Fund (”the League”), a tax-exempt organization, applies what it calls “debate criteria and vetting standards.” Candidates that fail to meet the vetting standards are not considered suitable for inclusion by the League. The complainant is a candidate for Connecticut attorney general, on the ballot and endorsed by the Green Party and the Independent Party. The complainant asked to participate in the League debate for attorney general, but the League found that he failed to meet the vetting criteria and announced that he would be excluded. At the time of this complaint, no attorney general debate has yet been held.

The vetting standards were circulated to the complainant by email and are attached as Exhibit A, which includes a blank form for responding. Exhibit B is the complainant’s response to the League. Exhibit C is the League’s email message excluding the complainant. The complainant’s exclusion had the effect of advancing the candidacies of the complainant’s Democratic and Republican opponents, and the act of excluding the complainant was in direct violation of the prohibition against political favoritism.

The vetting criteria are a sham, in that all of them hinge on a single factor: money. Criteria purporting to define whether the candidate is waging a campaign–campaign manager, headquarters, dedicated telephone–all depend on money. Yard signs and distribution of campaign literature depend on money. Paid staff are acceptable in place of volunteers, and money talks here, too. Campaign spending is set out separately, but it is the basis for the satisfaction of all the criteria. Financial support is established as an independent criterion, even though it is the key factor in the satisfaction of the other criteria. The application of these illogical, unfair and biased criteria means that, unless a candidate is determined to raise and spend what most voters would consider a large amount of money, the candidate will be deemed unsuitable for inclusion. Even a candidate who declines to raise money on principle is so branded by the League.

Notice also that there are no parameters, no standards, no figures except the dollar figure for money raised. No number of volunteers. No assessment of the quality of campaign literature. No minimum number of appearances. In fact, having tried to qualify for League debate in the past, the complainant attests that no list of volunteers is long enough, no number of campaign appearances or yard signs is sufficient, no quality of campaign literature is high enough, if the money test isn’t met.

To say that a candidate must be excluded because of an inability or unwillingness to raise money is arbitrary and illogical. There is no logical connection between the seriousness of a candidacy and the size of a candidate’s treasury. There may be a connection between money and the probability of winning an election, but this has nothing to do with the seriousness of an election campaign, and adjudging a poorly-funded candidate unsuitable for inclusion is defamatory and has the effect of favoring candidates with money.

Vetting standards are inapposite in any case. “Vetting” is a preliminary screening meant to eliminate competitors that should not be in the race. The term is imported from horse-racing and refers to a veterinary exam for health and soundness. It is inherently a disqualification process, and a competitor that can’t pass vetting is screened out for unfitness. To say that a candidate is unfit to debate because he has no bankroll is tortured logic, and it has the appearance of a pretext for favoritism toward well-financed candidates, typically those of the major parties.

The proper approach would be to accept candidates whose names are on the ballot and determine whether there are any reasons to disqualify any of them. If not, they must, in the case of a debate sponsored by a tax-exempt organization, be allowed to participate. I should have been allowed to participate.

Contributors to a tax-exempt organization have a legitimate expectation that their monies will not be used to the advantage or disadvantage of particular political candidates, and organizations with a tax-exemption have an obligation to see that their funds are not so used . The League has failed to honor its obligations to contributors, and IRS, as the guarantor of the League’s commitment to impartiality, is obliged to revoke its tax-exemption.

That’s the campaign news, and it should be the final installment, because, as I’ve said before, I’m definitely quitting after this.