|Public domain art from ClipArt ETC [etc.usf.edu]|
Bits and pieces from a Los Angeles Times story by David G. Savage. It concerns a former Republican (natch!) governor of Virginia, one Bob McDonnell:
McDonnell and his wife were deeply in debt. Jonnie Williams, a free-spending Virginia businessman, offered to improve their "financial situation" if they helped promote his tobacco-based dietary supplement.
Over two years, he secretly gave the couple more than $175,000 in loans, vacations and gifts, including a New York shopping spree by McDonnell's wife and an engraved Rolex watch for the governor.
Prosecutors showed evidence that within minutes of speaking to Williams about personal loans, the governor called or emailed aides and state health officials, asking them to come to the governor's mansion to hear more about the dietary supplement. McDonnell used the governor's mansion for a product launch for the new supplement. And he carried a bottle of pills in his pocket and suggested state employees might want to try them.
McDonnell was charged with bribery and corruption, and a jury convicted him in 2014 on 11 counts. A U.S. appeals court upheld the convictions and said the governor had taken bribes in exchange for "using the power of his office to influence governmental decisions."
But now the good part — good, that is, if you’re either a government official on the take, or a rich individual who wants to buy the law for your own benefit.
McDonnell has appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. He may lose in the tied-up court now that Justice Scalia is dead. I sincerely hope so. But the sheer gall of his appeal is vomit-worthy.
Moreover, the very fact that the Roberts Court would entertain such an appeal is worthy of a counter-appeal to God: “Dear Lord, don’t stop at Scalia. Please take Justice Roberts as well.”
As the LA Times tells it:
"The possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials" is not evidence of bribery or corruption, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said two years ago in striking down the limits on how much in total a single donor may give to a field of candidates. "Ingratiation and access... are not corruption," he said, quoting from the Citizens United opinion
McDonnell's attorneys have latched on to that legal rationale to argue that doing small favors for big donors is protected under the 1st Amendment .
"Paying for 'access' — the ability to get a call answered or a meeting scheduled — is constitutionally protected and an intrinsic part of our political system," they said in their appeal. "If Gov. McDonnell can be imprisoned for giving routine access to a gift-giver, an official could equally be imprisoned for agreeing to answer a donor's phone call about a policy issue.”
Alas, McDonnell has been sentenced to a piddling two years for what has grown into an effort to subvert not only a bribery law, but the very basis of Democracy, which is that government is not just for those who can afford to buy it.
If it were up to me, McDonnell would spend his two years in solitary. Either that, or in a maximum security prison with other major felons, which he is.
And Justices Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would be in cells further down the solitary cell block.
Special thanks to “Comrade Misfit” at the Earthbound Misfit blog for taking note of this issue, which is how it came to my own cranky notice.