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Harris announces attack ad against rival Cooley

October 6, 2010 |  4:39 pm

Democratic state attorney general nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday announced her first attack ad against GOP rival Steve Cooley, accusing the Republican district attorney of Los Angeles County of shutting down his environmental crimes unit after a deputy starting investigating one of his campaign contributions.

Cooley called the ad “absolutely 100% false,’’ saying his environmental crimes unit was never disbanded and, in fact, is prosecuting more cases than ever.  He said a similar false accusation was made during his 2004 reelection campaign and that “Ms. Harris is, bluntly and frankly, repeating a lie.’’

Harris’ ad, which begins with the question, “Who will protect California’s Environment,’’ is part of her effort to tout her own environmental credentials as San Francisco district attorney and call Cooley’s into question. Harris campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw said the ad will be running in television markets across the state, but he declined to say where or disclose the amount of money being spent on it.

The ad shows a black-and-white photo of Cooley as an announcer levels the charges: “Steve Cooley shut down his entire environmental crimes unit after he found out they were investigating a developer who’s given Steve Cooley thousands of dollars in campaign money."

The ad  refers to an April 2003  Los Angeles Times story about Cooley combining his environmental crimes division and consumer protection division, and dismissing a deputy who was investigating the  politically influential developer Newhall Land & Farming Co. for destroying an endangered wildflower.

Cooley said the unit has “never functioned better” and that the deputy was transferred because he had "screwed up the case." He denied the transfer was retaliatory and said another prosecutor was assigned to the investigation.

The criminal case eventually was dropped in exchange for the firm's promise to set aside a 64-acre preserve for an endangered plant that the company allegedly destroyed to clear the way for a 22,000-home development.

Cooley said that, at the time, he had recused himself from involvement in the case because members of the firm had been past donors to his campaigns.

Harris’ ad also accuses Cooley of refusing to combat Texas oil companies that “want to roll back California’s air pollution standards." The allegation is a reference to Cooley declining to take a position on Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would suspend regulations to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

Cooley said the attorney general should remain neutral on voter initiatives, with the exception of measures dealing directly with law enforcement issues, because he may have to defend the measures in court.

He said the attorney general has an obligation to defend the “people’s will” on ballot initiatives.

--Phil Willon in Los Angeles