United States: A Candid Conversation With PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Part 1

I recently had the unique opportunity to sit down and interview Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.  This is the 3rd time that I have met her. Her passion, energy, enthusiasm and commitment to the office and protecting the public are unsurpassed. She is fearless and a strong advocate for the citizens of Pennsylvania. During my interview she discusses her office; the issues that plague Pennsylvanians; media perceived controversial decisions; and what it is like to the be first female attorney general in Pennsylvania. This is part 1 of 4.

In 1978 the voters approved an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution approving the election of the attorney general effective with the general election of 1980.  What are the advantages of your position being elected as compared to an appointed position?

I am a big proponent of making sure that the attorney general is a prosecutor and not a politician and I am not saying that this was necessarily the case from 80 on but it certainly lends itself to the possibility that as an appointed position, that electoral and politics plays a role in the appointment of the attorney general.  And I don't think that's right.  I think in a position this powerful and that has so much influence and so much connection to the people of Pennsylvania, I think it is within their right that they choose who their attorney general is.  This isn't a position that has no contact with the public.  This isn't a position that doesn't advocate on behalf of the public.  We do all of that.  We are the largest protector of consumer rights in Pennsylvania.  We have a huge criminal law division.  We have a civil law division that protects the constitution and the people of Pennsylvania.  It is logical that they should be the ones to choose who that person is.  That person needs to be a prosecutor.  That person needs to have honesty and integrity.  And I think it should be up to the people of Pennsylvania to choose and that almost guarantees that politics does not play a role.

Do you see any downfalls in it being an elected position as compared to an appointed position?

I see downfalls in the electoral process,  in that,  you have to raise your own money.  They're statewide campaigns.  There's no campaign limits.  The people of Pennsylvania are only exposed to the candidates on a limited basis.  It's what they read in the newspapers; what they see on TV; hear on the radio or the mailings that they get.  And that takes money.  So it does have the possibility that whoever is able to get the most ads could win and they might not necessarily be the best person.

How do you balance the office being independent and at the same time your being one position that is elected?

I think that has a lot to do with my personality.  I didn't become an elected official because I wanted to move through the government system or because I needed the job or because I have an agenda that, I'll be the attorney general and then I'll be this and then I'll be that.  I have no agenda.  I am an elected official because I wanted to be the attorney general; because I knew I could do a good job and the electoral process was the route I had to take to get there.  Do I like the electoral process?  No.  Being a candidate is very difficult.  You leave your house; you leave your family; it's expensive and it's dirty.  And I don't like that.  And there are really no rules and I don't like that either.  But that's the route I had to take.  So I think the difference in balancing being independent is just who I am.  We are independent.  When somebody says they don't understand the structure of the office.  They'll say, well who is your boss?  Is the Governor your boss?  I'll say you're my boss.  If you are a citizen of Pennsylvania, you are my boss.  I have 12 ½  million bosses.  So the difference is it is an independent agency. My decisions are never based on, if I make this decision, will that risk my reelection or will that risk my future?  I don't care.  I mean do I want to continue to be the Attorney General and get reelected?  If I make the right decisions the natural course will be that the people of Pennsylvania will approve.  If I make wrong decisions, then they of course can show that at the polls.  But I never base it upon what is best for me.  It's always what's best for Pennsylvania and that then makes me and this agency remain independent.

Do you consider yourself a politician and now that you hold the office, are you involved in politics?

I hold an elected office but I'm not a politician.  I think there's statesmen, stateswomen and politicians.  I think a stateswoman is somebody that gets elected but they go in and do their job.  They check the politics outside of the door.  I think a politician by definition thinks of politics first and I don't.  I don't think of politics at all.  I don't even allow anyone to say, well, politically speaking if you make this decision, I stop them right there.  I never want to hear that.  Tell me what the facts are; tell me what the laws are; tell me how this affects people of Pennsylvania but do not talk to me about politics.  So I don't believe I'm a politician.

And now that I hold office, am I involved in politics?  I don't have time, I'll be honest with you.  I've been a lifelong democrat and I have certain beliefs on social issues and things like that.  But they never come into play in this office.  And the example for that would be on DOMA.  A lot of people thought that because I refused to represent the Governor and the Secretary of Health in a lawsuit, that that was my personal decision on whether I believe in same sex marriage.  It wasn't my personal decision.  That was my legal decision.  I am not just a public official who happens to be a lawyer.  I was hired to be the lawyer and I act as a lawyer; not what my personal opinions are.  So I don't have time.  This job consumes 90% of my time and whatever is left, goes directly to my kids.

What's the focus of your civil law division?

The Civil Law Division reviews all contracts for form and legality within the Commonwealth.  So we review approximately 5,000 contracts a year.  We also deal with regulatory issues.  We represent all Commonwealth agencies whether they are being sued or we are suing on their behalf.  We also deal with constitutional issues and we issue legal opinions to the Governor or Commonwealth agencies.  So they have quite a caseload in the Civil Law Division.

What's the focus of your Public Protection Division?

I am a criminal lawyer and I know you're a civil lawyer and I always thought I would rather die than be a civil lawyer, even though I started out that way.  I will tell you it is so interesting to me now.  The Public Protection Division has underneath it the Bureau of Consumer Protection that's fascinating.  It has the Charities Division which is even more fascinating which dealt with the Hershey reforms.  It has Antitrust Division which dealt with the U.S. Air/American Airlines merger and a whole host of other issues.  We have excellent deputy attorney generals who head these divisions and these units and they are great teachers as well.  So, also under that division falls the Health Care Division.  I just think it's an incredible, it's a powerful tool for the people of Pennsylvania because we represent them.  We don't represent the agency; we don't represent the Governor or Commonwealth agencies in that division.  We represent the people of Pennsylvania and we can take parens patriae action on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania whereas somebody may not have standing to bring their lawsuit to right a wrong, we do.  And that's fascinating to me.

And finally, what's the focus of your Criminal Law Division?

Under the Criminal Law Division, we have insurance fraud, we have Medicaid fraud, we have the Child Predator Unit and we have Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, Bureau of Special Investigations and the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.  We only have concurrent jurisdiction in certain areas – child predator, drugs, public corruption.  Those are our focuses but we also take in cases from district attorneys upon a conflict of interest or a lack of resources.  Our main focus is child predator, public corruption and the horrendous drug problem that we have in Pennsylvania.

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