Does Martha Coakley Have an Inner Elizabeth Warren?

Democratic candidate for Governor Martha Coakley came in for some criticism from the Globe’s Scot Lehigh and on BlueMassGroup recently for proposing to pay for the new state programs she favors by offering up that stale GOP talking point — that there’s plenty of savings to be found in eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Coakley did not elaborate on where she thought the “waste, fraud and abuse” were to be found, but, as the term is generally understood, it involves lazy people lolling in the state’s (presumably overly generous) safety net when they should be out and about applying for those jobs that don’t exist.

Which is too bad, because as the state official responsible for prosecuting public benefits fraud, she, along with the AG’s in other states and the US Attorney’s office, has forced some of the biggest public benefits cheats in the state — drug companies — into settlements in which they have admitted to bribing doctors and pharmacies to promote drugs for uses that have not been approved as safe or effective.

This past November, for example, Johnson & Johnson agreed to repay $62.5 million to the state for improperly encouraging the use of one of its drugs to control agitated nursing home patients, even though the drug increased the risk of stroke. And in 2012, she settled similar charges against two other drug companies, netting $55 million.

These settlements are certainly welcome additions to the state treasury. But if Coakley really wanted to capture the imagination of those Democrats who have come out of hibernation already (to caucus this past weekend, for example), she might make a bigger point of the fact that the biggest savings from eliminating waste, fraud and abuse are to be found in going after corporate providers, not individual consumers — and she’s been on them.

In her remaining months as Attorney General, she might even listen to Elizabeth Warren, who thinks that deterring criminal behavior in our financial system requires not just entering into settlements as a matter of course but actually going to trial sometimes to prosecute culpable executives under criminal laws. Or she might listen to Robert Reich, who made a pretty good showing in his run for Governor 12 years ago and who has said that “the only way to get [the drug companies that make up “Big Pharma”] to change their behavior is to make the individuals responsible feel the heat.”

So, some advice for Candidate Coakley: to make your real point about waste, fraud and abuse — and the one that might cause some Democrats who have had quite enough of the war on the poor to take another look at you — consider adding in a CEO perp walk.

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