Was the criminal case against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman really a political prosecution?
The actions of Siegelman's successor, Republican Bob Riley, present strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes.
First, consider the latest news in Riley's efforts to allow a private company to develop a luxury resort hotel at a state park on Alabama's coast. Riley's plan was so distasteful that even the Republican-dominated Alabama Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.
But here is what's really interesting about Riley's efforts to pave the way for an upscale development at Gulf State Park: The primary beneficiary of the plan was to be Auburn University. And one of Riley's staunchest supporters, Alabama Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), has strong connections to Auburn University. It doesn't take a drastic leap in logic to figure that Riley's plan was a payoff of sorts to some of his financial backers.
Now, consider news that a committee in the Alabama Legislature intends to review several big-dollar contracts that have been awarded to people close to Riley. The contracts include all kinds of goodies for Drayton Nabers, Riley's former finance director. The Alabama Department of Revenue wants to double a $400,000 contract that Nabers has received to represent the state in an ongoing lawsuit concerning taxes.
Nabers, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is to receive $200,000 to help the state manage federal stimulus funds. That would bring his grand total to $1 million in state contracts since he lost an election bid in 2006.
Sounds like Nabers was lucky he lost to Democrat Sue Bell Cobb.
What do the stories about the luxury hotel and the hefty state contracts have in common? Both appear to involve Riley's friends and supporters receiving significant financial benefits from the state.
On the surface, these seem to be the kind of quid pro quo deals that got Siegelman in trouble. Wouldn't you think that Riley, with his predecessor having been convicted on federal corruption charges, would go out of his way to avoid anything that remotely looks like a "something-for-something" deal?
But he's not. In fact, Riley seems to almost flaunt his ability to make things happen for his supporters.
So what gives? I suspect this tells us two things:
* Riley knows that these kinds of deals, minus explicit quid pro quos required by federal law, are not crimes. You and I might think they are not the best way to conduct state business. But under the law, they are not crimes. They aren't crimes when Riley does them; they weren't crimes when Siegelman did them.
* Riley knows that Siegelman's prosecution was based on politics, not unlawful acts. Has Riley spoken out against such abuse of federal prosecutorial power? Not hardly. He has been more than happy to benefit from it. What does that say about Riley's character? From where I sit, it says his character is pretty sorry.