In the right, upper corner of www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov, there is a picture of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller with a quotation that reads, “Our mission is to use the law to serve the people of Iowa. We’re glad you visited and we hope you find exactly what you need.”
And when you scan through the page’s list of “What We Do,” you’ll see a number of important ways the Iowa Attorney General’s office is supposed to be representing the interests of individual Iowans: protecting consumers, working with farmers, helping victims of crime, protecting the environment, protecting charitable giving, raising child support awareness, enforcing tobacco laws, protecting utility customers and issuing attorney general opinions.
But amid all the other important information and helpful links provided on that homepage, there is no mention of how the AG office’s responsibility for “representing state government” often presents an irresolvable conflict of interest for Miller and his staff: When individual Iowans need protection from public officials/employees accused of violating state law and procedures, the attorney general’s office represents the general public making the accusation as well as the state government being accused.
Over the past decade, we’ve found that Miller’s office, when faced with this conflict of interest, typically tries to resolve it to the benefit of state government. This has been especially true when it comes to ensuring government officials and institutions abide by both the letter and the spirit of Iowa’s open government laws. And it’s why we pushed for years for the Iowa Legislature to create an independent Public Information Board that could hear and evaluate such cases without facing the conflicts faced by the AG’s office. (That board, which lawmakers finally created in 2012, will meet Thursday in Iowa City.)