That means McDonnell, who (along with his wife) received more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a supporter, is a free man -- while former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who records show did not receive a penny in a similar case -- remains housed at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana.
What are the differences in the two cases? There aren't many; the most important one might be this -- McDonnell is a Republican, and Siegelman is a Democrat.
In legal terms, the major difference involves context -- Siegelman took a campaign donation that the government claimed was a bribe, while McDonnell took . . . well, bribes that the government claimed were bribes. The Supreme Court has decided that's OK, while it has refused several times to even hear the Siegelman case. Here is how we explained such nonsense in a previous post:
America's federal bribery laws are a confusing mishmash, covered under several different statutes, written in language that is largely unintelligible. In fact, the statutes are so confusing that courts often turn to case law to determine what is, and is not, illegal.
The Siegelman case, for example, largely was governed by McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991). He and (Richard) Scrushy were prosecuted under 18 U.S. Code 666, which is known as the "federal funds bribery" statute and generally applies to cases involving campaign contributions. (Scrushy's donation to help pay down debt for the Alabama Democratic Party, after Siegelman's lottery proposal had been defeated, was considered a campaign contribution.)
McDonnell, however, was prosecuted under 18 U.S. Code 201, a general bribery statute that usually does not involve campaign contributions. On the case-law side, McDonnell invoked Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255 (1992), which tends to involve bribery outside the context of a campaign contribution.
The bottom line: In Siegelman, Scrushy gave a campaign contribution. In McDonnell, constituent Jonny Williams showered McDonnell and his wife with gifts, which went directly to them, but he apparently did not make a campaign contribution. That means the two cases are covered by different law -- Siegelman is covered by the 666 statute and the McCormick case; McDonnell is covered by the 201 statute and the Evans case.
Who are the losers in all of this? Obviously, Don Siegelman is on the losing side. I would submit that the U.S. Supreme Court is a loser. Along with Bush v. Gore in 2000, McDonnell gives Americans an additional reason not to trust their high court.
The biggest losers, however, are the American people. The South has produced numerous substantive Democrats over the years, and our country needs those voices to be heard. But will they, and their financial supporters, go into hiding in the wake of what happened to Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy? Has that process already started?
Karl Rove, and others who engineered the Siegelman prosecution, don't mind a few black Democrats who represent heavily black Congressional districts. But they are terrified of a white Democrat who might succeed on a statewide level, become a national star, and present a challenge to the GOP's stranglehold on the South. Don Siegelman fit that description perfectly, and that's probably the No. 1 reason he had to be stopped. Robert McDonnell, while from a Southern state, is a Republican and did not fit that description. That's probably the No. 1 reason he is a free man.
What does that mean for our country? It's not good, even if you are a Republican. We need two healthy parties who can govern, and the GOP already appears to be in free fall with the rise of Donald Trump.
When is the last time you heard of a really promising white Democrat from the South? Perhaps that is why Bernie Sanders, well into his 70s and from Vermont, was Hillary Clinton's only serious challenger in the 2016 primaries? After all, the Siegelman case sends this message: "If you are a white Democrat in the South -- or a financial supporter of a white Democrat in the South -- you risk personal destruction. Even a Democratic president, like Barack Obama, won't lift a finger to free you. And even a DOJ under a Democratic president will do nothing to investigate and prosecute those who wrongfully sent you to prison."
Democrats might feel secure in thinking that Hillary Clinton will win the White House this year. But who will come after her? It probably won't be a Democrat from the South because their numbers likely will keep dwindling.
That could be the "legacy" of the Siegelman case, and Barack Obama helped cut his party's throat in a region where presidential races often are won or lost.