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Determination: Huckster Propaganda
Analysis: In 2007, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis set up a Public Integrity Unit with much fanfare. Four years later, it had seemingly gone quiet. I decided to take a look back at the unit’s work and found that it had prosecuted just three elected officials, only one of which resulted in punitive action — a $1,000 fine.
While reporting the story, a spokesman for Dumanis sent me a list of 88 public integrity cases the D.A.’s office had prosecuted since 2008. The list was largely comprised of rank-and-file employees such as a police officer, a rec center employee and even lawyers.
In an interview, Dumanis claimed that the unit had been set up to investigate and prosecute any and all public employees — not just elected officials. Dumanis said reporters had misconstrued the purpose of the Public Integrity Unit, limiting its role to the prosecution of elected officials and not including all the public employees investigated by her office.
“I think you, the collective media, have made it all about elected officials, that’s who you’re interested in these days,” Dumanis said.
But if the media has construed the role of the unit that way, it’s because Dumanis defined the team that way four years ago.
Dumanis’ message was crystal clear: The team would be focused on investigating corruption among elected officials, candidates and campaign officials.
In response to this Fact Check, Walker told me it’s “understandable” that the media would focus on elected officials, given Dumanis’ statements back in 2007.
But Walker pointed out that the press conference four years ago included a lengthy question and answer session with reporters — important context Walker said is not part of the archived video of the press conference, which only shows Dumanis’ prepared speech.
“You only know the official announcement of what was a 25- to 30-minute press conference,” Walker said.
Walker said he couldn’t remember if Dumanis had expanded on what exactly constituted a “public integrity” case at the press conference.
Further, Walker pointed to a statement from the press release he authored in 2007, which quotes Dumanis as saying: “The people have the right to expect that their public officials will not privately and illegally benefit from their public positions and from the public treasury.”
Walker sent me an extract from the California Government Code. Section 82048 of the code defines a public official as “every member, officer, employee or consultant of a state or local government agency.”
Walker’s press release from the time only expands into specifics beyond the phrase “public officials” in its first sentence. It reads:
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis today announced the formation of a Public Integrity Unit to investigate allegations of criminal misconduct among elected officials, candidates for office and campaign officials in San Diego County.
Dumanis took the step of announcing this unit publicly. She chose to invite television cameras to film her speaking. She also sent out a press release to the media that laid out her goals and defined the scope of what the new unit would be doing.
We’re calling this statement Huckster Propaganda. That’s because the statement is not only inaccurate, but it’s reasonable to believe that Dumanis knew it was inaccurate but made the statement anyway to attempt to gain an advantage in the story I was writing about the Public Integrity Unit.
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