Sunday, August 19, 2007

Teflon Bob and a Double Standard?

Let's return to the topic of Teflon Bob Riley, Alabama's Republican governor who seems to draw scant scrutiny from the press or law enforcement. This is in stark contrast to Riley's predecessor, Democrat Don Siegelman, who had some 100 hard-hitting articles written about his administration by one newspaper alone (the Mobile Press-Register) and now sits in federal prison, convicted on a variety of corruption charges.

Given that recent press reports indicate the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) practices a form of selective prosecution regarding public corruption cases, and Congress has pledged to investigate the matter this fall, it seems reasonable to ask: Is Riley getting a free ride that certainly was not offered to Siegelman?

A couple of posts on this general topic here at Legal Schnauzer attracted some interesting comments. Let's examine some of the points raised by these readers:

* The contribution to Riley's biotech venture was reported properly while Siegelman's lottery contribution was not--I believe the reader is referring to state regulations regarding the reporting of campaign contributions. But this was not an issue in Siegelman's criminal trial. That involved federal law. Almost two-thirds of the charges against Siegelman involved honest services mail fraud 18 U.S. Code 1346. The single biggest charge on which he was convicted involved bribery, 18 U.S. Code 666. News reports involving Riley's support for the biotech venture and a subsequent contribution to his re-election campaign raise issues of federal law. Whether he properly reported the contributions under state law is not relevant.

* Siegelman's behavior while in office raised many questions that warranted an investigation--Maybe so. But the issue is selective prosecution. And with that in mind, one must ask: What about Riley's behavior, both before and after he was elected? On the subject of reporting campaign contributions, for example, the Washington Post reports that Riley's record has not been pristine. He received several hundred thousand dollars from the Republican Governors Association that were not properly reported. Also, the Post reported Riley's ties to the U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy groups with ties to Russian energy executives. Riley wrote a letter on U.S. Family Network stationery, encouraging Alabamians to oppose plans by the Poarch Creek Indians to build casinos in Alabama. A defeat of casino gambling in Alabama, of course, would benefit the casinos of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a major client of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Alabama press has barely skimmed the surface of these issues.

* Siegelman took great pains to hide contributions he received from Richard Scrushy/HealthSouth--In Siegelman's criminal trial, this charge came under the heading of racketeering and money laundering. The jury acquitted Siegelman on all of these counts.

* Siegelman was involved in a number of questionable deals related to the sale of his home, a motorcycle, etc.--These events were not included in the indictment against Siegelman. Even the U.S. Attorneys Office in the Middle District of Alabama did not put much stock in them.

* Riley's biotech incentives package was approved by the Alabama Legislature--This is true, but in terms of federal law, it is irrelevant. As 18 U.S. Code 666 makes clear, the key factor is the communications between Riley and the biotech backers in Huntsville. News reports have made it clear that the Huntsville folks initiated the campaign through Riley ("Riley voices support for Huntsville biotech, Huntsville Times, Dec. 9, 2004; "Tug of war for biotech: Riley asked to fund Huntsville center, raising concerns for UAB, Birmingham News, Dec. 7, 2004.) Here is the lead paragraph to the Birmingham News story noted above: "A group of business leaders is asking Gov. Bob Riley to steer state money to the development of a biotech research center in Huntsville, a project some in Birmingham believe would be in direct competition with UAB's research program." Clearly, there was communication between Riley and biotech backers in Huntsville from the outset. The fact the Alabama Legislature approved the incentives package does not mean there could not have been an illegal quid pro quo involving Riley and the Huntsville group. For what's it worth, Siegelman's lottery package was approved by the legislature. That didn't seem to stop an investigation into his activities.

* Readers did not raise this point, but as a Birmingham resident, I will. Riley pledged $50 million in incentives and tax breaks for the Huntsville project. That's twice the $25 million UAB received in state funds for the Shelby Biomedical Research Building on the Birmingham campus. ("State helps biotech research center set up in Huntsville," Birmingham News, August 9, 2005") The News article notes how hard UAB, with its long history of excellence in biomedical research, had to lobby for its state funding. Meanwhile, the state showered Huntsville with twice the money it gave UAB, for a community with very little history in biomedical research. Could it be that Huntsville had it so easy because of the nice campaign contribution Riley knew was coming? Is this not worthy of scrutiny from the press and law enforcement?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered this: the press looked into (as you quote, there were several newspaper stories, including one by Eddie Curran), found nothing and moved on because there's no "there" there? Only the die-hard Siegelman defenders believe there's some conspiracy. The press has looked into it. If they found something, they would print it.