Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley put out a terse statement that was nevertheless incredibly intriguing: They'll be coordinating their investigations of potential voter fraud and public corruption in the city of Bell. The small city southeast of L.A. became a national symbol of public profligacy last month when the L.A. Times revealed city manager Robert Rizzo was making nearly $800,000 per year, with his deputy and the chief of police making similarly outlandish salaries.
Now let's play six degrees of California politics.
Cooley is running, as a Republican, for Brown's seat.
Brown, a Democrat, is running for governor.
Both have plenty of motivation to take home the glory of a public flogging of Rizzo and his enablers on the Bell City Council. (Reporters' gold: Dueling leaks!)
Brown's opponent Meg Whitman is accusing him of having run his own Bell when he was mayor of Oakland. The number of employees making more than $200,000 per year increased from 5 to more than 40, but three-fourths of them were firefighters, the Brown camp told the Times. Not Bell, by any means, but certainly Brown wants to bring the hammer down to diffuse the Whitman argument.
Moreover, as we've argued repeatedly, this scandal is bad for progressives such as Brown because it's a visceral and easy-to-understand scandal of government waste, thus giving the upper hand to the anti-government party — the GOP.
For Cooley, the Bell scandal is right in his wheelhouse. Coming right as he prosecutes L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon for not living in his district, Cooley is setting himself up as the guy who's tough on public corruption, a reputation he'd already cemented by creating the public integrity unit to investigate official corruption.
By joining with Cooley, Brown gets to join forces with a lawman from L.A. What does Cooley get? Well, this state is still heavily Democratic, and Cooley may be looking at the scoreboard: Whitman has spent a bundle of money but can't break away. Maybe he's thinking it'd be a good thing to have a friend in the governor's mansion. Or, maybe he'll spy on the Brown team and leak to Whitman and the press.
Of course, it's possible merging the investigations was the more efficient and sensible policy choice, preventing duplication while facilitating collaboration.
But it's more fun to play fantasy Machiavelli, isn't it?