Siegelman was convicted of bribery for accepting a campaign contribution and then appointing the donor to a hospital-regulatory board. Never mind that such behavior has not been considered a crime; in fact, our system of government is driven largely by such actions.
But if the Siegelman verdict is to be taken seriously--and it has been upheld by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta--some Republican governors could be in deep doo-doo.
Consider these headlines, first one from California regarding "The Governator":
Donors to Governor Get Posts of Prestige
San Diego Union Tribune
Aug 28, 2006
SACRAMENTO, CA--When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was swept into office by the recall election in 2003, he promised to end politics as usual, where "money goes in and favors go out."
But Schwarzenegger has carried on the political tradition of providing favors -- in the form of coveted state appointments -- to generous campaign donors.
At least 13 of Schwarzenegger's appointees, their spouses and their companies have contributed more than $1.4 million to his campaigns, according to campaign disclosure forms and a review by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Schwarzenegger has hired some donors for key positions in government, but has also made several appointments that bestow prestige rather than pay. He has named five major donors or their spouses to the unpaid Del Mar Fair Board, one of the most sought-after appointments in state government.
Then we have a headline from Texas, about Governor Rick Perry:
Perry’s Top Donors Get Posts
May 24, 2009
AUSTIN--Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.
Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.
Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.
Let's don't forget one of our favorite Republican governors--Sarah Palin, of Alaska:
Gov Palin appoints donors to key posts
Los Angeles Times
October 24, 2008
More than 100 appointments to state posts--nearly 1 in 4--went to campaign contributors or their relatives, sometimes without apparent regard to qualifications.
Palin filled 16 state offices with appointees from families that donated $2,000 to $5,600 and were among her top political patrons.
Several of Palin's leading campaign donors received state-subsidized industrial development loans of up to $3.6 million for business ventures of questionable public value.
Palin picked a donor to replace the public safety commissioner she fired. But the new top cop had to resign days later under an ethics cloud. And Palin drew a formal ethics complaint still pending against her and several aides for allegedly helping another donor and fundraiser land a state job.
Most new governors install friends and supporters in state jobs. But Alaska historians say some of Palin's appointees were less qualified than those of her Republican and Democratic predecessors.
Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas, gets in on the act:
Huck's gift-givers ended up in state posts
December 14, 2007
Mike Huckabee accepted more than 90 gifts from 21 Arkansans he appointed to state posts during his decade as governor, a Politico analysis of state public records found.
Since he set his sights on the White House, those supporters, their families and their companies have kept on giving. They contributed nearly $161,000 to a pre-presidential campaign account and Huckabee's official campaign committee since late last year, according to state and federal campaign finance records.
And finally, we have one of the GOP's stars of the future--Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana:
New Orleans Times Picayune
March 23, 2009
Since taking office last year, Gov. Bobby Jindal has appointed more than 200 of his top contributors to influential boards and commissions, proving that 'ethics' has a limit--and a price.
It was almost a threat, but he delivered it with a down-home country smile, the kind that hints of mischief and promises all kinds of hell. Sen. Ben Nevers, with a twang that's distinctly Washington Parish, told members of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee he was going to have his staff produce a list of political appointees and how much money each had contributed to the elected officials responsible for their appointments.
Don Siegelman has spent nine months in federal prison, and he might be headed back unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear his case and overturns the verdict. Siegelman's donor, former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, remains in federal prison.
And yet, numerous other governors have appointed contributors to major posts--under both the Bush and Obama justice departments--and everything seems to be fine.
The truth is that such transactions--minus an explicit quid pro quo (something-for-something deal)--are not illegal. Evidence showed that a quid pro quo was not present in the Siegelman case, and a federal judge did not require that one be present.
In other words, Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted of a "crime" for an act that is standard operating procedure in American politics. The headlines above prove that such acts happen all the time.
Is something wrong with this picture of American justice?