Is This Okay?

August 27, 2010

Four candidates are running for the CNMI U.S. delegate seat: current Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan (Independent),  Attorney Joseph Camacho (Covenant), former Governor Juan Babauta (Republican) and former Lt. Governor Jess Borja (Democrat).

In the CNMI, lines between election campaign money and government money are often blurred. Lines between government department and agency involvement in campaigns are often crossed.  You may remember the allegations that food from the federally funded Man'amko Center was used at Fitial's campaign rallies last year. (Did the governor ever file his campaign report for last year's governor's race?)

Last month the CNMI Office of Indigenous Affairs and the Office of Carolinian Affairs sponsored (and we assume paid for) a rally , which newspaper also called a campaign rally attended by Covenant candidate Joe Camacho, and Republican candidate Juan Babauta, both Carolinians.

There have been other controversies in this year's election season. A Camacho campaign party held at American Memorial Park earlier this year resulted in the campaign manager, ex-felon Felix Nogis, being arrested for littering.  It seems the group left truckloads of garbage that park rangers had to clean up. Attorney Joseph Camacho represented Nogis in the U.S. District Court of the NMI where he was found guilty of littering a federal park.

Now more controversy is brewing. The Camacho for Congress Facebook page reveals that the Attorney General "and his office" are sponsoring a Camacho campaign "gathering" at the governor's mansion.

(From Joseph Camacho Facebook Page)

Will the Office of the Attorney General will be consulted if there are improprieties in the election or will the U.S. Attorney Office be consulted?  Isn't this a conflict of interest?  Many assume that Buckingham is in the Governor's pocket, but isn't this taking things a little too far?

The Facebook page clearly states: "August 27, 6:00PM - 9:30PM Hosted by Attorney General Ed Buckingham and his office."

An earlier Facebook post on Camacho's page indicated that the event will take place at the governor's mansion. After someone made a comment, the post was removed, but it read:
"Camacho for Congress Saturday. Committee members and Supporters will going out into the Community to continue our House to House Visits. Also, the Attorney General and his staff are hosting our Candidate for U.S. Delegate Joseph Norita Camacho. The meet and greet will be at the CNMI Gov. Fitial's residence in Gualo Rai. Please come and join us."
Is the AG's office paying for this gala with CNMI funds? Is this ethical? How can a government office support a particular candidate at the governor's mansion? Isn't the governor's mansion owned by the people of the CNMI or is it a personal house. Do public funds pay for electricity, maintenance, anything?

The CNMI Election Law states (emphasis added):
6705. Unlawful Campaign Activities.
(a) No person may use the name of the government department or agency to campaign for or express support for a candidate running for public office; nor shall the buying or selling of fundraising materials in support of candidates for public office take place in any government building or facility.
(b) All campaign posters shall be removed from public places by the candidate no later than fifteen days after the election date.
(c) No campaign materials, or hard board, used as a poster, may be attached to any telephone pole, fire hydrant or tree on public property.
Any person who knowingly and willfully violates any provision of this section shall, upon conviction, be fined $500.
Source: PL 12-18, 2 (6705); (a), (b), and (c) repealed in entirety and subsequent sections (d), (e), and (f) redesignated as (a), (b), and (c), respectively, by PL 15-52, 3.
Commission Comment: Public Law 15-52 took effect on April 11, 2007. See the comment to 1 CMC 6528 regarding PL 15-52.
It seems to me when the Office of Indigenous Affairs or Carolinian Affairs Office sponsor a campaign it is a violation of the law.  Maybe that is blurred because it was also a "rally" to bash the federal government.  But certainly the event "hosted by Attorney General Ed Buckingham and his office" at the governor's mansion is a violation of the CNMI election law. Nothing seems blurred there. But, of course, I am not an attorney, but AG Buckingham, "his office" (assuming that "office" means AAGs and staff, not his actual office space), and Attorney Joseph Camacho are attorneys. Well, what do you think?


Anonymous said...

It seems "the Attorney General and his staff" was the more accurate verbiage, and of course referred only to those of them who do support (or pretend to support) Camacho.

The use of "office" was likely intended for identification purposes, but may have been a gaffe by Camacho or an uninformed campaign worker -- similar to when Saipan mayoral candiate Angelo Villagomez published an endorsement by a local uniformed Navy sailor in blatant violation of federal law. It is often difficult to pin down who actually made the mistake, and whether or not it was "knowing". Clearly, no OAG appropriated funds would ever be used for campaign purposes.

But this kind of lapse makes one wonder what kind of Delegate he would make. Kilili and Borja have a reputation as the "clean" candidates.

The Governor's house is his own personal dwelling.

Anonymous said...

People are usually pretty vigilant about these things, since it is an easy "gotcha" and everyone is watching.

No one used the NAME of a government agency (the OAG) to campaign, so no unlawful activity.

Were there cabinet-hosted gatherings in the 2008 Delegate election or 2009 gubernatorial election? I don't recall any.

Similarly, Kilili's taxpayer-funded "publicity" about his federal fund-grabbing prowess for the CNMI is perfectly legal, too. Incumbency has its advantages.

Anonymous said...

It says, "...(a) No person may use the name of the government department or agency to campaign for or express support for a candidate running for public office;" facebook page is a campaign. It uses the name.

Anonymous said...

Since the Gov's house is being used in lieu of the NMI house provided for the use of the Gov. and the maint. water, and power etc. are paid by the people does it not make that house the replacement of the Gov's mansion thus applicable to the election and NMI laws??

Anonymous said...

The house is official if any gvt. money is used to support the governor living there.

It's not just about the "official" government house or facility, but it is the "name of the government dept. or agency" being used to campaign and "using the name (AG AND OFFICE) to express support for a candidate." The published campaign announcement on Facebook did not say, "Ed Buckingham", It said "ATTORNEY GENERAL Ed Buckingham and his OFFICE." A direct violation.

Very slick. The OAG won't prosecute themselves. Maybe a citizen can file a complaint with the Commission of Elections.

Anonymous said...

We certainly have a lot of uninformed amateur lawyers here in the CNMI. "Sea lawyer" is more like it.

"Attorney General" is Buckingham's title, not the agency for which he works -- which is "Office of the Attorney General". A title may lawfully be used with a name. Just like "Governor", "Bishop", "Presiding Judge", "Public Defender", "DPS Commissioner", or "U.S. Attorney". Referring to an individual by title and name is not tantamount to "us[ing] the name of the government department or agency to campaign for or express support for a candidate running for public office."

But the agency to decide that is not the OAG, but the Office of the Public Auditor. Because of the conflict, a special prosecutor would have to be appointed. However, I am very certain that OPA and its attorneys would find no violation warranting a petition to appoint a special prosecutor. Certainly not one susceptible of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

And no, acceptance of reimbursement for electrical costs does not magically transform a private home into a "government building or facility."

If you are really that interested in this stuff, go to law school. The OAG has long has had a shortage of lawyers willing to provide public service at the salaries offered.

Anonymous said...

Hosted by means funded by. The OPA should investigate whether or not AG Buckingham used or the many other department heads and members of the Fitial Cabinet listed as hosts are using government funds for these campaign activities.

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Noni 10:29am,

You said, "We certainly have a lot of uninformed amateur lawyers here in the CNMI."

I can't agree more.

Let's see three AGs in a row. First Gregory, then Baka now Buckingham. Well, Baka doesn't count. Not that he wasn't an uniformed amateur lawyer, just that he wasn't an appointed AG.

Then you have Joe Camacho, his wife Viola, Cinta Kaipat, Aquilar, Arriola, Quichocho, Huesman, Theresa Kim, Hirschbein, and the list goes on and on.

Whoa. I almost forgot Howie Willens and Deanna Siemer. Although neither is really uninformed or all that amateur. They are both just downright corrupt, manipulative, self-serving and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

Why did you leave out Woodruff?

Anonymous said...

Aguliar is a victim of his own stupidity. Arriola is just plain stupid.

The Hilbloom estate made a whole bunch of these guys a lot of money. After word spread, lawyers flocked to Saipan in hopes of getting rich, like a gold rush. Some did, some didn't. CNMI Government lawyers (US) help draft laws in order to litigate them later in private practice. Before the FBI started really paying attention, lawyers operated under the radar with impunity. Some are working for the Russian mafia as we speak, helping them launder money. They'll eventually get caught. Some have helped their spouses get lucrative Federal contracts. There is no statue of limitations on Federal crimes. This makes them sweat a little.

Right now money is getting tight. Mistresses, coke and meth are expensive as are high class Russian escorts.

BOTW said...

noni 10:29
As a layman, I think there is a difference between - "Attorney General Ed Buckingham" and "Ed Buckingham, the Attorney General"

The first uses the public servant position and in the latter, he's title is mentioned for identification.

Please explain so my non-lawyer mind is set right.

Anonymous said...

Neither putting the title before or after an individual's name equates to the "name of the government department or agency." That is the bottom line, which makes it o.k. as a matter of law. Election law is highly technical.

Frieda Demapan's use of government time to send out a political e-mail is another matter, redolent of Bernadita Dela Cruz selling Juan N. Babauta's fund-raising tickets on OAG premises in 2005. (All the witnesses were unwilling to testify.)

Most federal crimes do indeed have a statue of limitations. Federal capital offenses may be prosecuted at any time, 18 U.S.C. § 3281, but unless some more specific statutory arrangement has been made a general five year statute of limitations covers all other federal crimes. 18 U.S.C. § 3282.

To the poster at 11:31 PM, Jacinta M. Kaipat has never been admitted to the bar.

During Baka's 3 years as Deputy AG (including over a year as Acting AG), and 3-1/2 years as counsel to the election commission, he was scrupulous in avoiding any legal appearance of impropriety. Yet fortunately for the prospects of an elected CNMI AG some day, Pete Reyes and Tina Sablan stood firm to ensure he was replaced by Ed Buckingham.

Thank you both! Best wishes for success at law school, Tina.

In the meantime we need Pamela S. Brown, Jane E. Mack, Maya B. Kara, Mark B. Hanson, Rexford C. Kosack or Stephen C. Woodruff to be our first elected AG. Or Bruce Lee Jorgensen or James J. Benedetto if they take and pass the CNMI bar.

Anonymous said...

The OAG does not have government e-mail accounts. We do not know if Frieda Demapan was using government time or was on a break when she sent the e-mail.

But did she send it from a government computer? Someone should check the IP address on the message.

Anonymous said...

Noni 2:16pm:

You said, "Tina Sablan stood firm to ensure he was replaced by Ed Buckingham."

I hope you are not a lawyer yourself. Your logic is about as good as Bucky's.

As far as I could tell, Tina stood firm on having an AG appointed rather than a temporary (ha) acting AG retain the post for years. You stating that she stood firm on ensuring Buckingham replaced Baka is a bunch of baloney. I assume you are either Baka himself or a close friend who is upset that the Governor didn't have the balls to appoint Baka. Of course, one may ask why he should have. I mean Tina did beat him in Supreme Court. I guess that is why you are so hell bent on twisting her stance on the AG.


Anonymous said...

Tina stood firm on having an AG appointed rather than [an] acting AG retain the post for years. You stating that she stood firm on ensuring Buckingham replaced Baka is a bunch of baloney.

You are mistaken. She did both. When Baka was publicly proclaiming that no one else was intererested in accepting the job, Tina met Baka personally and let him know Buckingham might want it. Baka told the Governor, and after widespread consultation, Ed was nominated. You can confirm this through Tina Sablan, Ed Buckingham, Greg Baka, Ben Fitial, and a number of other administration, legislative, and community leaders.

Anonymous said...

Tina did beat him in Supreme Court.

Baka was dismissed from the Open Government Act lawsuit concerning disclosure of funding and billing records for the Covenant Section 903 litigation in Washington, DC, near the outset of the case on March 27, 2009. Sablan v. Fitial, Civ. No. 09-0066E at 2, lines 15-18 (N.M.I. Super. Ct. June 18, 2009). He filed an off-island notice covering from June 9 to 27, 2009; Attorney General Buckingham was sworn in August 17, 2009.

On the merits, contrary to the “legal analysis” of Marianas Variety reporters and the forces of “change,” in the OGA case the CNMI Supreme Court agreed with Baka's original October 24, 2008 opinion letter denial that the “litigation exemption” of 1 CMC § 9918(a)(8) applied. Sablan v. Fitial, 2009 MP 11, ¶¶ 4 & 10 (Aug. 28, 2009). See also Id., 2009 MP 11, ¶ 19.

The Court went on to explain that the Superior Court retained discretion to apply an “exception” to that OGA exemption. Title 1, Commonwealth Code, Section 9918(c) provides:

“Inspection or copying of any specific records exempt under the provisions of this section may be permitted if the Commonwealth Superior Court finds, after a hearing with notice thereof to every person in interest and the agency, that the exemption of such records is clearly unnecessary to protect any individual’s right of privacy or any vital governmental function.”

1 CMC § 9918(c) (emphasis added) (quoted in Sablan v. Fitial, 2009 MP 11, ¶ 11 and Civ. No. 09-0066E at 3, lines 6-8 (N.M.I. Super. Ct. June 18, 2009)). So under the OGA, only the Superior Court has the power to exercise discretion to overrule a valid exemption, not a government agency or the AG. “[E]very decision under subsection (c), by the very language of the statute, is within the courts’ discretion. So in this sense, no precedent is being conclusively fixed.” Id. at 16, lines 10-12 (N.M.I. Super. Ct. June 18, 2009).

Yes, the Supreme Court did affirm the disclosure ordered by the Superior Court. Sablan v. Fitial, 2009 MP 11, ¶¶ 22 - 27 & 35. Significantly, that disclosure withheld release of the engagement letter and detailed billing invoices. Sablan v. Fitial, Civ. No. 09-0066E at 15, lines 4-5 & lines 8-10 (N.M.I. Super. Ct. June 18, 2009). The only substantive issue on which the Government lost (as to the relatively unimportant summaries and finance transmittal documents that were released) was the ruling “that the exemption of such records is clearly unnecessary.” Again, under the OGA this is not a determination that was within the legal power of the government, AG, or anyone other than the Superior Court to make.

Thus, the decisions of former Acting Attorney General Baka were determined to be procedurally correct and substantively in full conformity with the Open Government Act. Even disregarding the fact that he was neither party nor counsel in the appeal, he did not “lose” nor “get beat,” but faithfully upheld the statutes of the Commonwealth as a servant of the law.

Anonymous said...

I do not have to confirm it with Tina. Many people were aware of Baka publicly stating that "no one" wanted the position of AG. He used this excuse on more than one occasion to defend his remaining in the "Acting" AG position for the longest time in the history of the CNMI.

I am glad that she was once again able to prove you incorrect and accurately determined that there were others who "wanted" that AG position other than you. I believe many other names came out over the course of your tenure as "Acting" AG. Many of them also "wanted" to be appointed.

Who the governor selected was completely up to him. Unless you expect us to believe that Fitial holds Tina's reference to Buckingham and many others who wanted the position in such high regard that she is the cause for his appointment.

Baka walked around and touted that he did not need to be appointed by the Governor and confirmed because "no one wanted the job". He was wrong. Is Buckingham better than Baka? They are birds of a feather and no one expected anything different from the administration that gave us the OGA case, Masssage-gate, parole/pardon circus, driver's ice dealing, and the many other disgusting incidents that will all go down in CNMI history.

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:02am:

The chorus of the sore loser.

Anonymous said...

As long as you persist in erroneously parsing "winner" from "loser" you will never be happy and at peace.

No one proved "me" wrong, and "I" was not among those who wanted the job.

Who the governor selected was completely up to him.

You seem to have overlooked Tina's central point in endorsing the Honorable Edward T. Buckingham as our Attorney General. The position also requires the advice and consent of the Senate.

It is not enough that someone may "want" to be CNMI AG. A person must be qualified, highly competent, ethical, a good leader, and acceptable to the selecting authorities.

The fact that Baka served as Acting AG so long (plus the fact that many turned it down) does indeed suggest that no one else was willing and able to serve under the then-current circumstances in the final year before the Governor's re-election (the first time an incumbent was retained since 1985).

Proposed improvements to those circumstances have included raising the salary to that of an Associate Judge on the Superior Court, giving the AG complete control of the OAG budget, providing a larger budget, service for a fixed term like the Public Auditor, and having the office be elective.

Admittedly it may be difficult to attract candidates with the qualities of Pamela S. Brown and Matthew T. Gregory, but perhaps people now have a greater appreciation of why it is so important to provide an adequate institutional framework and structure for the OAG.

Ultimately an AG serves the people, not an administration. But if you want to retain the status quo, keep on doing what you're doing.

Anonymous said...

noni 11:08am:

I spoke to Tina and this is an outright lie!

"Tina's central point in endorsing the Honorable Edward T. Buckingham as our Attorney General. "

She did not at anytime "endorse" Ed Buckingham for AG.

You are a slime ball and a liar! I am glad you are no longer the Acting AG.

Anonymous said...

Undoubtedly many in the CNMI are grateful that Ed is willing to endure the tribulations and undertake the heavy responsibilities of service as AG, rather than you or anyone else who posts regularly or otherwise to this blog. However, your veracity is no better than the equanimity of your demeanor and temperament. Had you truly talked with Tina and accurately relayed the substance of this thread to her, she would have undoubtedly concurred with the valid statements above. Tina Sablan is an honorable person, and perhaps one day she will be an elected Attorney General of this great Commonwealth. In the meantime, it is well within her ability to confirm or deny any fact, interpretation, or implication written in these comments by posting right here. She does not need you for a mouthpiece.