The Virginia Conservative Action PAC (VCAP) is conducting a push-poll on behalf of Bob McDonnell, one of two candidates for the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Virginia. I know, because I was the recipient of one of the calls.
A push-poll is designed not to elicit information from the survey participant, but to implant ideas or images (generally negative) in the minds of those receiving the call. I know the difference because I have worked on dozens of campaigns and I have designed more than a handful of legitimate, information-gathering polls on behalf of clients as part of my business.
The automated call I received (according to the caller ID, from something called FECR at 571-522-6559, a Northern Virginia number) began innocently enough. It asked if I planned to vote in the primary election on Tuesday and whether I planned to vote for McDonnell or for his opponent, Steve Baril.
When I answered I planned to vote for Baril, the automated voice asked if I would change my mind if I knew that Baril had no experience as a prosecutor and that he had taken campaign contributions from trial lawyers. (I said no, my mind would not be changed.)
The poll also asked if I had heard or seen radio or TV commercials for either candidate, and whether, “other than this call,” I had received telephone calls from either campaign. (The answer was yes, since yesterday I received a call from Jim Gilmore on behalf of McDonnell, and two days ago I received a call from Baril on his own behalf.)
Finally, the automated voice identified the source of the call as the Virginia Conservative Action PAC and gave the PAC’s website address.
I wish that candidates for Attorney General would face the fact that the job they seek is not a prosecutor’s job. It is not “Commonwealth’s Attorney for the whole Commonwealth.” There are two functions of the Attorney General: the legal function is to act as a sort of “corporate lawyer” for the state government; the political function is to run for governor four years after being elected to the post of attorney general.
According to the Code of Virginia, “The Attorney General shall be the chief executive officer of the Department of Law, and shall perform such duties as may be provided by law” (§ 2.2-500). § 2.2-505 limits the scope of the Attorney General’s office considerably:
A. The Attorney General shall give his advice and render official advisory opinions in writing only when requested in writing so to do by one of the following: the Governor; a member of the General Assembly; a judge of a court of record or a judge of a court not of record; the State Corporation Commission; an attorney for the Commonwealth; a county, city or town attorney in those localities in which such office has been created; a clerk of a court of record; a city or county sheriff; a city or county treasurer or similar officer; a commissioner of the revenue or similar officer; a chairman or secretary of an electoral board; or the head of a state department, division, bureau, institution or board.
B. Except in cases where an opinion is requested by the Governor or a member of the General Assembly, the Attorney General shall have no authority to render an official opinion unless the question dealt with is directly related to the discharge of the duties of the official requesting the opinion. Any opinion request to the Attorney General by an attorney for the Commonwealth or county, city or town attorney shall itself be in the form of an opinion embodying a precise statement of all facts together with such attorney's legal conclusions.
§ 2.2-507 says that the Attorney General represents the Commonwealth in “civil matters.” But the kicker is § 2.2-511, which says, “Unless specifically requested by the Governor to do so, the Attorney General shall have no authority to institute or conduct criminal prosecutions in the circuit courts of the Commonwealth except” in certain well-defined areas of the law (emphasis added).
All the candidates for Attorney General – McDonnell, Baril, and to a lesser extent (so far, presumably because he faces no primary opponent) state Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath County – have been misleading the voters by their constant drumming about prosecutorial experience and campaign platforms that focus on how Virginia should deal with criminals.
There are two reasons I plan to vote for Steve Baril on Tuesday: (1) precisely because he has never been a prosecutor and (2) because he is not Bob McDonnell, a man so vapid that he does not remember whether or not he has ever experienced oral sex.