A strange story has emerged from the California Department of Justice. An aide to Attorney General Kamala Harris named Brandon Kiel was busted along with two friends for operating a bogus police force. The scandal hasn’t touched Harris, though she is running to replace Barbara Boxer in the Senate next year. But the story does raise some questions about politics in a one-party state.
On its website, the Masonic Fraternal Police Order compares itself with other police departments: “We are born into this Organization our bloodlines go deeper then (sic) an application. . . . Our mission is to preserve the integrity, honor and legacy of our Founding Fathers, Masonic Organizations, all Grand Masters and their Constitution/By Laws.” Kiel was charged with impersonating a police officer after he reportedly began contacting legitimate police departments to alert them that the MFPO—with connections that its members claim go back to the Knights Templar and ancient Mexico—would be launching operations in their jurisdictions.
Harris can’t be blamed for the bizarre MFPO episode, but the incident could foreshadow more trying times ahead for the senate hopeful. Until recently, she hadn’t been running so much as strolling toward the nomination, with the blessing of the Bay Area Democratic Party machine. That began to change last week when Loretta Sanchez, a nine-term congresswoman from Santa Ana in Southern California, announced that she would challenge Harris for the nomination. Things quickly turned ugly, as Harris blasted Sanchez for allegedly insulting Native Americans. It remains to be seen if Sanchez can capitalize on Harris’s problematic tenure as attorney general.
The real problem with Harris is her blind loyalty to her political allies, exemplified by her habit of assigning skewed titles and summaries to proposed statewide voter initiatives. These short descriptions—placed on measures before supporters gather signatures to qualify them for the ballot—make or break the initiatives, because they are usually the only things that voters read. When supporters of a pension-reform initiative submitted it to the attorney general in 2013, Harris attached an adverse description designed to kill it. As the Sacramento Bee put it, gently: “The wording is supposed to be neutral. But recent attorneys general, who are responsible for titles and summaries, have meddled, knowing many voters make up their minds based on the 100-word summations. Attorney General Kamala Harris has been especially freewheeling. That needs to stop.”
Another part of the attorney general’s job is to approve sales of any nonprofit hospital to a for-profit operation. When the nonprofit Daughters of Charity wanted to sell six hospitals to a for-profit operator that would keep them open, Harris approved—but imposed so many costly and difficult conditions that the transaction fell through. Critics accused Harris of acting like an advocate for the SEIU, the massive union representing health-care workers that opposed the deal, rather than as an impartial representative of the people.
Like many San Francisco politicians, Harris is no friend of the Second Amendment, but even some liberals were surprised when she championed an arcane state law banning gun shops from displaying ads of handguns outside their stores. The law, passed decades ago to discourage gun ownership by Chinese and Mexican immigrants, is arguably a violation of the First Amendment. Yet Harris defended the statute as necessary to halt “impulse” gun purchases—never mind the state’s longstanding 10-day waiting period.
In 2013, Harris helped secure a record $1 million fine against two conservative groups that had improperly reported the source of the funding they used to oppose one initiative proposing a tax increase and to support another limiting the ability of unions to use member dues for political purposes. Would she have been so zealous against liberal political funders? Then, as I reported in December, Harris demanded that the conservative Americans for Prosperity Foundation turn over its donor lists in order to be cleared for operation in California. Harris claimed that she would keep the information confidential. But in an early ruling in favor of AFP’s First Amendment challenge to Harris’s demands, U.S. District Judge Manuel Reed noted that such a promise is “entirely discretionary and could change at any moment.” Harris’s office was trying to grab the names of conservative donors in a move reminiscent of the IRS’s attempts to extract information from conservative nonprofits. The courts have since backed her position, but the episode reinforced one of the key allegations against Harris: that she is first and foremost a partisan.
In a one-party state such as California, these policy concerns get a shrug—and even a weird scandal involving the Knights Templar prompts little more than a chuckle. Perhaps a serious primary fight will bring more of these strange tales to light.