The Wink and Nod of Public Corruption
The former Governor of Virginia Robert F. McDonnell is indebted to the United States Supreme Court. By a unanimous decision, the court overturned the Governor’s conviction of public corruption, reasoning that while the Governor’s actions were tawdry, the jury instructions about what constitutes official acts were so broad as to cover almost any action of a public official. In so doing the court did more than save the Governor’s bacon. The holding shields and encourages public corruption, thereby putting another nail in our democratic coffin.
The case stems from the Governor and his wife accepting from a Richmond, Virginia businessman, over $175,000 in loans, cash and gifts including a Rolex watch, vacations, ball gowns and a Ferrari automobile. According to prosecutors in exchange for the gifts, the Governor agreed to use his political influence and connections to help the businessman. Many others are languishing in prison right now for doing far less.
Nonetheless, we take no position on the Governor’s guilt or innocence. The Supreme Court could be technically correct. But, the buying and selling of political influence is political prostitution. Both its practice and the corruption it fosters are destructive of our democracy, the court’s ruling notwithstanding.
The John here, was the businessman looking for a political favor. Whether directly or through a lobbyist-pimp, the John hooked up with the Governor and propositioned him using a knowing wink and cold hard cash. The Governor smiled, nodded, took the cash and delivered as promised.
The words bribe, public corruption, influence peddling and graft were never uttered. Nor was the agreement reduced to writing or otherwise preserved. But throughout the entire transaction the parties knew exactly what was being bought and sold. They sale and purchase of political influence was the only reason for their relationship.
No matter courts reasoning, this was a political bribe pure and simple, influence peddling writ large and a prime example of public corruption that bedevils our political system. The same applies to the case of Virginia Senator and potential Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine.
According to financial disclosures filed by the Senator, from 2001 to 2009, Kaine took full advantage of the state’s lax gift laws to receive more than $160,000 in gifts, mostly for travel to and from political events and conferences. He accepted $18,000 for a Caribbean vacation, $5,500 in clothes and a trip to watch George Mason University play in the NCAA basketball final four.
The Senator’s John’s included political supporters, a drug company that soon after bought a facility in Virginia, and Dominion, the states biggest provider of electricity. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/tim-kaine-virginia-veep-mcdonnell-clinton-224888. If this isn’t big pimping what is?
There are of course rare examples of political accountability. Fifty-nine year old Democratic Representative Chaka Fattah was recently convicted of 23 counts including racketeering, money laundering and fraud for a scheme to repay an illegal $1 million loan to his failed 2007 Philadelphia mayoral bid.
But these are the exceptions not the rule. Given the amount of money in politics, our politicians are easily bribed. And with the McDonnell ruling as well as Citizens United, they usually get away with it.
The Supreme Court is therefore dead wrong. The McDonnell holding is nose blind to that which is patently obvious. With very few exceptions, everything done by a politician while in office is a political act. And influence peddling for money and personal gain must not be viewed as politics as usual. It is instead a crime, akin to any other criminal transgression. The court’s holding gives a green light to public corruption.
In conclusion, Adam and Eve were tempted by a single apple. That being the case, our public officials cannot resist the lure of celebrity, easy money, fast cars and loose women.
On this, our 4th of July weekend we celebrate our freedoms. If we are to preserve said freedoms, we must hold our political leaders personally responsible for their misconduct. We have no hope of doing so, if public corruption is excused by a wink and a nod.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum