Mission: The National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School is a legal research, education, and policy center that examines the implications of the jurisprudence of state attorneys general. Working closely with attorneys general, academics, and other members of the legal community, the program is active in the development and dissemination of legal information used by state prosecutors in carrying out their civil and criminal responsibilities.
Each year, attorneys general, their staffs, federal officials, advocacy representatives and academics visit Columbia Law School to share their ideas and vision for high quality, state-based law enforcement and thereby contribute greatly to the Law School's commitment to serving the public interest.
In a recently published op-ed piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, former Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper uses the much heralded lawsuit suit brought by 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against four cancer charities for deceptive acts and false claims in soliciting charitable donations, as a way of addressing the difficulties regulators face when investigating charitable organizations. Although this unprecedented collaboration between all state jurisdictions and the federal government marks a high point in states’ enforcement activity against fraudulent and deceptive practices by entities claiming to be charitable, many outside observers have asked the question; why did the investigation take four years to complete?
Robert Cooper’s article, entitled “Why Taking Legal Action Against Charity Fraud Is So Hard,” convincingly answers this question by drawing attention to the inherent complexities, which permeate an action of this kind. Of the many reasons cited by Cooper as obstacles to be overcome in an action of this size and scale, one in particular stands out: “[...]enhancing the states’ ability to coordinate and share nonprofit information more efficiently.” In this regard, Cooper notes the contributions of the National State Attorneys General Program, through its Charities Regulation and Oversight Project. Several of the AGs who signed on to the complaint filed against the cancer charities, first discussed doing so at one of the many conferences convened by the National State Attorneys General Program. According to one Deputy Attorney General "[The Program’s] in-person meetings have been invaluable to the enforcement community.”
Faculty lunch held on Wednesday, June 24 - The program departed from its usual staple of Supreme Court cases. The discussion focused on the state role in "Our Federalism." The current reality of “Our Federalism” is one of vigorous state activity resulting from federal permission, with states playing a central role in both shaping and administering various federal programs. As Jessica Bulman-Pozen writes, “This state role is thus quite different from a traditional federalism conception pitting autonomous states against an autonomous federal government; integration, not separation, is key.” Jim Tierney presented and Jessica Bulman-Pozen was a special commentator.
The National State Attorneys General Program is pleased to announce that Cindy Lott, the Executive Director of the Program and Lead Counsel of the Charities Regulation and Oversight Project has been named to the Internal Revenue Service’s Advisory Committee On Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury, upon the recommendation of the IRS Commissioner, ACT members serve for two-year terms. This year’s group of seven new appointees will be joining 14 returning members.
Created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, ACT provides a public forum in which IRS executives receive regular input on the development and implementation of IRS policy concerning tax exempt and government entities. Members are placed into subject specific teams and present reports and recommendations regarding their subject matter. These recommendations culminate in the submission of a final yearly report. Members participate in approximately five public meetings per year in Washington, DC.
Ms. Lott has been appointed to the Exempt Organizations project team and will be responsible for offering recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the redesigned Form 990. Ms. Lott and the other members of the advisory committee will present their reports and recommendations to IRS executives at the next public meeting scheduled for June 17.
In an unprecedented collaboration between federal-state agencies - including assistance from the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance - 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have announced the filing of a federal civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Arizona against four cancer charities for deceptive acts and false claims in soliciting charitable donations. The complaint alleges that the charities raised over $180 million while donating a tiny percentage to charitable entities. This is the first time that all 50 states plus the District of Columbia have filed an action together, marking a high point in states’ enforcement activity against fraudulent and deceptive practices by entities claiming to be charitable.
Several of the AGs who signed on to the complaint, first discussed doing so at a conference put on by Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program. "These in-person meetings have been invaluable to the enforcement community", according to state enforcement attorneys.
To view the complaint filed by the FTC, 50 states and District of Columbia, click HERE
Former Arkansas Attorney General and Former United States Senator Mark Pryor Visits Columbia Law School (April 2015)
During a recent visit to Columbia Law School, Mark Pryor the former attorney general of Indiana (1999-2003) and former United States Senator (2003-2015), sat down with Program Director James Tierney to discuss the politicization of the office of state attorney general.
Concerned by the potential influence of political parties on state attorneys general, Mark Pryor penned a historic letter to his colleagues imploring them not to create partisan membership organizations.
When asked why he wrote the letter, Pryor said he always believe that “partisanship has a role and a place in politics and even to some extent government….. but, you cannot let the parties take over the offices; you cannot let the parties drive things.”
Former Indiana Attorney General Jeff Modisett visits Columbia Law School, reflects on his time as AG
During a recent visit to Columbia Law School (March 31, 2015), Jeff Modisett former attorney general of Indiana (1996-2000), sat down with Program Director James Tierney to discuss the political tenor when he was Attorney General, and to share his perspective on the tobacco negotiations.
In discussing the tobacco case, Modisett said “It was a watershed moment for the AGs, in realizing that individually they can do a lot for their state, but working together they could actually do an awful lot for the country.”
Elected statewide in forty-three states, attorneys general are independent state constitutional officers vested with extraordinary prosecutorial discretion. The decisions of a single state attorney general often reverberate nationally and impact citizens across state lines.
As a consequence of their wide-ranging impact, state attorneys general have not been immune to the onslaught of special-interest lobbying. Media outlets, such as the New York Times, have called into question the independence of attorneys general in the face of concerted and sustained lobbying efforts by corporations and trial lawyers. Furthermore, in a post-Citizen United world, large campaign contributions from known and unknown donors have overwhelmed the election coffers of many state attorneys general, thus further eroding the perception of independence.
In light of these realities, what are the ethical duties and considerations for today's state attorneys general? Does the need of elected prosecutors to raise campaign funds affect their independence? Does the lobbbying of state attorneys general create undue influence? And are regulatory changes needed to ensure that state attorneys general continue to faithfully represent the communities they serve?
The discussion featured former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler and former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, '82. The discussion was moderated by National State Attorneys General Program Director James Tierney.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission 51 former state attorneys general including Program Director Tierney, strongly urged the FCC to establish reasonable rates for prisoner phone calls in an effort to help prisoners maintain connections with family members, a factor known to reduce recidivism.
Program Director James Tierney Lectures Newly Elected State Attorneys General on the Powers, Duties and Responsibilities of State Attorneys General
On December 1, 2014, at the invitation of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), Program Director Tierney met with the 15 newly elected state attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, and lectured on the duties and responsibilities of the office of state attorneys general. He also met privately with some of the new attorneys general, assisting them and their staffs with transition related issues.
In a radio interview just hours before leaving office as the 43rd Attorney General, Doug Gansler reflects on his eight years as Attorney General of Maryland. Gansler said the billion dollar multi-state mortgage settlement is among his biggest accomplishment and that he is proud of his advocacy on same sex marriage.
Listen to his radio interview on WBAL News Radio 1090 HERE
On October 30, 2014, 1011 TV of Lincoln, Nebraska ran an excellent special report that contains an insightful in depth interview with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, in which he describes the functions of his office.
"This job didn't become any more partisan in my books, but it did in the minds of some people," said Van Hollen. "And whereas I could walk around in this town during my first term, and with very limited exceptions, people treated me with great respect because I was the Attorney General, I found myself being disparaged because I was the Republican Attorney General. That was unfortunate."
In a discussion with National State Attorney General Program’s Director James Tierney, General Suthers reflected on his career as a prosecutor , first as a District Attorney, then US Attorney and now in this tenth and final year as Attorney General. AG Suthers encouraged students to consider tenure in an Attorney General’s office. “Attorneys Generals office is a tremendous view of public law and presents all kinds opportunities…It’s just an amazing opportunity.”
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel returned to the National State Attorneys General Program on March 27, 2014. In a discussion with National State Attorney General Program Director James Tierney, General McDaniel highlighted issues facing both consumers and businesses, including the evolving mortgage fraud crisis and the Target data breach. He also discussed state and federal partnership, including his office’s partnership with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
When asked about the value of working in state government as opposed to working at the local and federal level, McDaniel said “I recommend public service at all levels.” McDaniel believes “As far as AGs are concerned, state government is where the rubber meets the road….and where so much good can be done.”