October 1, 2010

Republican leaders ask attorney general to investigate changes in jobs report

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

The Republican leaders of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates have asked Democratic Attorney General Doug Gansler to investigate the upbeat changes made to the analysis of an July jobs report posted on the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s website in August.

The changes in the online posting switched from a downbeat assessment of the July jobs numbers — showing an increase of 500 jobs, but 1,300 new unemployment claims —  to a more optimistic one in line with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s emphasis on how many jobs have been created.

House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell and Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman sent a joint letter to Gansler asking for the probe. They also sent letters to House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller, asking them to set up an investigative committee to look into the changes in the report that was extensively reported in the media, and linked to at MarylandReporter.com. Here is background from the Sun and the Post. The Red Maryland blog has the detailed chronology and copies of the e-mails.

Neither Gansler nor Assistant Attorney General Dan Friedman, counsel to the Maryland General Assembly, had seen the letter as of Thursday afternoon, according to Raquel Guillory, the AG’s public information officer.

Would the attorney general respond to the request? Of course, Guillory said. “We have to respond. They’re our clients.”

The attorney general in Maryland and his assistants represent both the executive branch and its agencies and the legislature.

Kittleman and O’Donnell got a cold response to their request from Busch. He saw it as a political ploy, pointing out that O’Donnell and Kittleman complained about the issue at an event with Republican ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who is seeking to unseat O’Malley — the man who defeated Ehrlich’s re-election bid in 2006.

Alexandra Hughes, communications director for Speaker Busch, said late Thursday she wasn’t sure Busch had seen the letter, but his earlier published comments were “accurate,” questioning the political nature of a request for a legislative investigation.

“If there had been some sort of substantive changes [in the actual numbers], it would have been different,” Hughes said. Instead, there was “a difference in analyst interpretations” of the declining job gains.

In August, there was an actual loss of 7,000 jobs reported in Maryland.

Kittleman and O’Donnell asked Gansler to investigate whether any laws were broken, including “the use of a state agency to obscure the facts or deceive the public.”

They also questioned whether there was “a coordinated conspiracy to deceive” between the department and the governor’s office, and whether the governor was directly involved in the effort. (O’Malley has denied any direct knowledge.)

The GOP leaders also questioned why DLLR Secretary Alexander Sanchez asked for the PIN number of the Blackberry of his communications director so that their discussions could not be tracked.