POLITICS BEING CRIMINALIZED BY PROSECUTORS?
Thursday, April 27th, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Don Siegelman was in his second term as Alabama Governor, and by most accounts was doing a commendable job. But he was a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state. And that apparently rankled the likes of then Bush political adviser Karl Rove and Alabama Republican appointed prosecutors. The justice department investigated Siegelman for years, until he was finally convicted of bribery. Any neutral observer who looks at what happened to Siegelman will conclude that the whole sordid investigation reeks of party politics and stinks to high heaven.
Don Siegelman’s passion was educational reform, and his efforts caused his downfall. He proposed creating a state lottery to fund a major educational push. He said the money was critical for offering quality education in Alabama.
Siegelman raised significant private dollars for the lottery effort, and Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy, former chief executive of HealthSouth, contributed $250,000 to support the project. Later, Siegelman appointed Scrushy to a state health board, as had three previous governors. The board, under Alabama law, has to be made up of healthcare officials, and members receive no pay. And it should be noted that half of Scrushy’s contribution came after he was appointed to the board.
So was this a bribe for a nonpaying appointment to a healthcare board where the appointee had already served three terms by the three previous governors? And the contribution was not even to the Siegelman campaign. If this is considered a bribe, then every governor in the country, as well as numerous other state and local officials, should be worried. Appointments to state and local boards by elected officials, who have received campaign contributions from individuals that they appoint is about as routine as it gets at all levels of government.
Don Siegelman was convicted and sentenced to seven years in a federal penitentiary. “I haven’t seen a case with this many red flags on it that pointed towards a real injustice being done,” says Grant Woods, the former Republican attorney general of Arizona. “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square. This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.”
Woods has been joined by ninety other state attorneys general, all arguing that “a public official may not be prosecuted for the receipt of a campaign contribution in the absence of an explicit quid pro quo connection between the campaign contribution and an official act.” Ninety-one current and former prosecutors, both Republican and Democrat alike, all are saying Don Siegelman got a raw deal.
Conservative columnist George Will reviewed the Siegelman case and wrote in his syndicated column: “Everyone who cares about the rule of law should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal…today’s confusion and the resulting prosecutorial discretion chill the exercise of constitutional rights of political participation and can imprison people unjustly.”
I have always known Don Siegelman to be a dedicated, honest, hardworking public official. Does politics play a role in appointments being made? Yes, all over America. But that’s a far cry from those public officials who may be guilty of breeding criminal contempt.
If there is a crime committed in this sordid and unjust prosecution of Don Siegelman, it is the one committed by the federal prosecutors and political consultants in both Alabama and Washington, who subverted the law and instigated – yes – instigated, this unjust conviction. At stake is far more than Don Siegelman’s future. What is at stake is the integrity of the entire American criminal justice system.