Friday, June 6, 2008

Bob Riley's Quid Pro Quo Keeps on Giving

Former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman spent months in federal prison because he allegedly took a campaign contribution from a supporter and then did something to benefit that supporter. Federal prosecutors contended this was the kind of "quid pro quo" arrangement that constitutes federal-funds bribery, and Siegelman still is fighting his conviction on appeal.

Now, let's consider the case of current Alabama Governor Bob Riley, a Republican. Riley took a sizable campaign contribution from supporters of a biotechnology center in Huntsville and helped steer millions of state dollars to the project. As a result, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is now a reality--soaking up funds that could have gone to a strong biotech infrastructure that already existed at UAB and Southern Research Institute in Birmingham.

Has Riley gotten in trouble with federal prosecutors for what appears to be a "quid pro quo" very much like the one Siegelman allegedly arranged? Heck, no.

In fact, Riley receives huzzahs today from The Birmingham News, that official house organ of the Alabama Republican Party. On the front page of the News, we learn that Riley is on one of his celebrated trade junkets, this time to Brazil. And who happens to be along for the joyride? Why, none other than representatives of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Looks like Riley's cronies hope to figure out how to make biofuel from sugar cane--and make bucket fulls of cash in the process.

Are the HudsonAlpha folks benefiting from their campaign contribution to Riley? Sure sounds like it. And assuming state dollars were used for Riley's trade junket, the governor appears to still be using state tax proceeds to help line the pockets of the Huntsville crowd.

Now, here's the thing to keep in mind: As the Don Siegelman appeal moves forward, we appear to be learning what most rational folks knew all along--the arrangement between Siegelman and Richard Scrushy was not a bribe at all, under the law, and never should have been prosecuted. It seems clear that the arrangement between Riley and his Huntsville buddies also does not constitute a bribe.

But why did the U.S. Justice Department treat the Siegelman deal as a federal crime while ignoring the Riley deal? Why does The Birmingham News trumpet the fruits of Riley's deal on the front page while apparently supporting the prosecution of Siegelman and Scrushy?

It's bad enough that Alabama's largest newspaper has that kind of double standard. But when our Justice Department has that kind of double standard, we aren't much better than the banana republics that thrive at many points on the globe.

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