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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Does Siegelman Case Mean Prominent GOP Governors Are Headed for Prison?

Are some of our best-known Republican governors on the verge of being prosecuted and sent to federal prison? If you believe the verdict in the case of Don Siegelman, former Democratic governor of Alabama, the answer would have to be yes--especially when you check out some fairly recent headlines.

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

Houston Chronicle
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:

Jindal's List

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?


Kristopher said...

Come now...have you ever even read the 11th Circuit Court Opinion? Yes a quid pro quo is likely required (though the 11th Circuit contends the Supreme Court has only addressed it specifically in extortion, not bribery cases). AND a quid pro quo instruction was given.

The appeals court opinion made clear repeatedly that doing favors for political contributors is an expected part of politics. The crime comes in when a promise is made that a particular action will be taken for a particular donation.

So, yes, if a federal prosecutor can prove that in any of the circumstances above such donations were made for the express purposes of getting benefits, the governors you named could face prosecution. I certainly hope that was not the case and that they have learned from Siegelman's mistakes.

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, I've read the opinion and I've read the relevant segments of the trial transcript. And an explicit quid pro quo instruction was not given. That's not open to debate. It's clear in the record.

The 11th Circuit agreed that the extortion standard and the bribery standard are identical for cases involving political contributions.

Siegelman didn't make a mistake under the law. His "mistake" was being a Democratic governor in Alabama when Karl Rove was orchestrating the U.S. Justice Department.

Kristopher said...

It's also clear that the 11th Circuit agreed with the judge that an instruction was given, and that an explicit instruction is not required.

Karl Rove did not convict Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy. Karl Rove did not uphold those convictions on appeal. Rove may have played a role in the prosecution, but it doesn't change the fact that Siegelman and Scrushy were found to have broken the law. You can argue the outcome of the case and you can argue it was selective prosecution, but don't roll those two things together.

legalschnauzer said...

I've written several hundred posts about the Siegelman case, so I have a pretty good idea what it was about.

I know what the 11th Circuit said. And I've written a multi-part series on why the 11th Circuit was wrong.

Again, that's not a matter for argument. The 11th Circuit ruled contrary to its own clear precedent.

You apparently believe that if the 11th Circuit says something, it is correct under the law. If you look beneath the surface and research the applicable law and facts, you see that they butchered this ruling--and it almost had to be intentional.

Unfortunately, appellate judges have lifetime appointments, no one holds them accountable, and the press doesn't bother to do its job anymore.

Kristopher said...

It's not a matter for argument whether the 11th Circuit got it wrong? I think that's exactly what we're arguing isn't it? So if the Supreme Court decides not to hear the appeal they're wrong too?

I'm not saying the 11th Circuit (or any other court) is always right. I'm saying that in this case, with this particular set of facts (which I also have examined at some depth) they were right.

Anonymous said...

Actually, he is guilty of not being a Jew to join in the Zionist movement and Karl Rove was sent to specifically make a prime example of him, to all who would not participate and or fully implement their plan - COPENHAGEN is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Every human was to be charged a carbon credit and Al GORE (alright) had the ATM card manufactured to sell us our own CO2, to breathe the breath of life on earth.

Don Siegelman and I communicated and I have every intention of casting him the Barn Owls, which he is fond of and Charley Merten and he know of one another.

Truly two of our great American heros. I mention Charley because he got the Barn Owls and HOPEFULLY, with him as a civil rights lawyer representing a couple of important legal issues in the federal court ...

.... prayer is a power which simply moves unseen energy into the seen when we believe in our imaginations to the point of seeing it so.

DON SIEGELMAN is DIVINE and we must ALL apply all our powers & go forward. STOP the colonialism of Palestine and we begin our own reversal of the colonialism here, via the COURT as the most guilty of colonialists' goons, representing everything that is not America.


legalschnauzer said...

Actually, the Supreme Court does not review appellate court rulings for correctness. If it refuses to hear the case, it says nothing about whether the 11th Circuit got it right or wrong. Siegelman's appeal to the SCOTUS argues that there is a larger issue that needs to be squared away. But Siegelman is not allowed to ask SCOTUS to correct a lower court. That's not what SCOTUS does.

That's why it's so important that we have honest appellate courts. They are the last line of defense for most parties. Unfortunately, the 11th Circuit is not an honest court--at least not in the Siegelman case.

I'm not arguing with you. We're having a discussion about what the 11th Circuit ruling said, what the trial transcript showed, and what the actual law is.

You happened to choose a subject that I know a lot about, and I'm sharing the facts with you. If you choose not to believe them, that's fine with me. But the 11th Circuit got it wrong, and that's not debatable.

You're welcome to key in "11th Circuit Siegelman" in the search function at the top of this blog, and it will call up everything I've written on the subject. I think that will answer any questions you might have.

I would also invite you to read what Larisa Alexandrovna has written at at-Largely and what Scott Horton has written at No Comment (Harper's.org). Those are just two of several major journalists who have joined me in writing extensively about the injustice in the Siegelman/Scrushy case.

Kristopher said...

I'm well aware of what you've written on the case. And I strongly disagree with your interpretation of the facts. Writing a lot does not automatically make you correct.

Both Horton and Alexandrovna have followed the Siegelman case as an example of selective prosecution, I have seen neither write extensively on the details of this particular case.

Anonymous said...

Here's a preview of how our country tis of thee is doing with respect to the information stream reaching those who must hurry and catch up:


Weekly Standard: Tea Baggers Should Look Down Under December 14th, 2009, By Eli Clifton

This morning Adam Brickley posted on the Weekly Standard’s blog that, “Tea Partiers and Palinistas here in the States would do well to watch conservative Aussie leader Tony Abbott very closely.” Brickley is correct that Abbott has engineered a coup of sorts in Australia’s Liberal Party­taking over the leadership after their ex-leader, Malcolm Turnbull, announced he would support cap-and-trade legislation to reduce carbon emissions responsible for the kind of climate change that has literally burned up parts of his country in recent years.

Brickley has become a bit of an expert on “Tea Partiers and Palinistas” since 2007 when he started the “Draft Sarah Palin For Vice President Blog” which has been credited with giving the initial momentum and exposure to the otherwise unknown first-term governor of Alaska.

Best, Biloxi & one more I'll post, too!

Anonymous said...

If the 11th Circuit doesn't agree with you or one of the other conspiracy bloggers, they've got it wrong and it's not debatable?1?!? When did you earn your law degree?

Kristopher is right that the jury determined a quid pro quo did exist in this case. Moreover, the way it differs from the others you cited is the money Scrushy went through great lengths to give Gov. Siegelman in a way that was hard to trace was used by the governor to pay down a loan for the lottery fund he was PERSONALLY LIABLE to pay back. The jury decided it wasn't merely a poltical campaign donation through which the governor benefitted, it was personally.

legalschnauzer said...

You don't have to have a law degree to read the law. If you can read simple declarative sentences, you can understand the pertinent law in the Siegelman case. It's not complicated.

And I'm not a conspiracy blogger. I said the 11th Circuit got it wrong, not that there is some conspiracy. There may be a conspiracy, but that's not what I said.

What Scrushy did or did not do with the money is irrelevant under bribery law. There still must be an explicit quid pro quo. That was 11th Circuit precedent, and the court didn't follow it's own law.

Kristopher is wrong that the jury found a quid pro quo. They didn't find one because the jury instructions, which were unlawfully given, did not require them to find one.

I say this is not debatable not to be cocky. But it's in the official trial record. And in that sense, it can't be debated:

* The jury instruction was not correct; and

* The 11th Circuit ruled contrary to its own precedent.

Simple facts, straight from the record.

Anonymous said...

Hell, no. Obama "doesn't care about the past." Those Governors could have tortured a child over a BBQ to get their opponent to drop out and Obama couldn't care less.