Richard Blumenthal Talked Tough About Exact Language, but Was Lax About Words That Described Him


Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general running for Senate, has been channeling our own David Paterson, blasting the Times rather than owning up to his own blunders.

The only “Vietnam vet” to confuse Da Nang with the Harvard Swim Club, Blumenthal either actively or passively abetted a spellbinding memoir of his early days, a bio so false it would have led to material misrepresentation charges had he been investigating it rather than encouraging it.

In addition to his own occasional public claims that he “served in Vietnam” or “returned” from it, Blumenthal has been inaptly depicted as a war vet in eight profiles over the last six years, and captain of the swim team in two.

The AG with a steel-trap mind can’t recall if he ever attempted to correct this pulsating narrative. I tried to determine if Blumenthal’s obvious failure to napalm this convoy of lies was simply a reflection of his deep First Amendment respect for the right of almost every newspaper in his state to get it wrong. So I called the press office to ask co-director Chris Hoffman if it had ever contacted a news organization about any reporting it regarded as inaccurate about the actual work of the office. Two days of haggling produced no answer.

Blumenthal apparently only corrects published errors when he doesn’t privately salute them.

A brief search of the really extraordinary Blumenthal record (it takes an afternoon to scroll through the press releases) uncovered a few cases that cut so close to Blumenthal’s own failings as to suggest that he might have put a target on his own back. He’s brought cases against lawnmower companies for mislabeling tractor horsepower, travel scammers, and even an “imposter pastor” who “with unconscionable and unprecedented gall” claimed to run a church he didn’t.

My personal comparative favorite, though, was a June 25, 2009, letter Blumenthal wrote to Connecticut’s consumer protection department. This opinion letter took on the real-life consumer annoyance of gas retailers whose cash discounts don’t extend to debit card purchases. The AG who feels no responsibility to affirmatively correct misinformation about himself stuck it to retailers who weren’t volunteering to consumers that cash cards don’t enjoy the same benefits as cash. Blumenthal even conceded in his letter that the directly applicable statutes didn’t require disclosure, but he was going to demand it anyway.

“Because the public appears to view cash and debit card transactions as being the same,” said the AG, “without affirmative disclosure by a gasoline retailer that a cash discount does not apply to debit card purchases, debit card consumers can be misled into purchasing gasoline from a retailer” who doesn’t extend the cost break to cardholders. “In general,” he insisted, “an omission that is likely to mislead consumers may qualify as a deceptive act or practice. We conclude that the Department has the authority — and should use it — to require affirmative notice by gasoline retailers who offer cash discounts when those discounts do not apply to debit card purchases.”

At a minimum (not even counting the times that Blumenthal concedes he “misspoke”), Blumenthal’s irresponsibility about affirmatively fact-checking his own published profile “qualifies as a deceptive act or practice.”

The AG frequently invokes similar language in civil complaints he routinely brings against a wide variety of corporate miscreants. In a 2008 suit against American Future Systems, he charged that this advertising company “had made or caused to be made, directly or indirectly, explicitly or by implication, representation or omission” false material that was “likely to mislead.” This far-reaching condemnation, skillfully crafted to cover every possible deceit, requires no stretching to cover Blumenthal’s own misleading personal prospectus.

And of course, what could be more important in the age of meltdown than Blumenthal’s pioneering cases against mortgage companies like Royal Financial and First Source Mortgage Solutions? Blumenthal said these companies “concealed, suppressed, intentionally omitted or otherwise intentionally failed to disclose material particulars of loan transactions.” These “material misrepresentations” were, the AG alleged, “reasonably interpreted by the consumer victims who were typically not sophisticated real estate investors,” a parallel with the ordinary reader of a newspaper profile.

In the case against Royal, Blumenthal expressed how central honest communication is in a democracy. The defendants hadn’t simply violated a statute here or there, they “offended the public policy as embedded by common law, regulation and statute,” including the “duty of good faith and fair dealing.” They “knew, or should have known that their conduct was unfair or deceptive, in violation of the General Statutes.”

It’s hard to believe that a political junkie like Blumenthal didn’t notice all the stories in New York papers in 1982 about Bruce Caputo, a Republican congressman challenging Pat Moynihan for Senate. Blumenthal was, that same year, getting ready for his first race two years later for the Connecticut House, creating the Citizens Crime Commission in December 1982. Caputo had blithely left the impression that he was a draftee and lieutenant who’d done a two-and-a-half-year hitch in Vietnam. In fact, finishing at Harvard Business School (no swim-team claims) in 1967, the same year that Blumenthal graduated and faced draft deferment choices, Caputo took a civilian job in the Pentagon. Like Blumenthal, Caputo’s first reaction to being caught with his uniform pants at his ankles, was to suggest that his misstatements were only “technical.”

“I was using loose language,” said the whiz kid, “I didn’t know we were having a precise conversation.”

Micky Carroll, the legendary political reporter with the Times, wrote then that Caputo “ignored a cardinal rule when facing embarrassment,” namely, “it helps to be the first to admit it.” Ditto, Blumenthal.