Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Free Dollar Bill

Let's get in the wayback machine and revisit the Bill Jefferson follies for a moment.  Today we're going all the way back to 2009 when some of us, learning the specific nature of the charges against ol' Dollar Bill, started to ask what's the big deal.  Or at least, we wanted to know how exactly this was different from the day to day legalized bribery that happens in Washington.
If a Congressman can be convicted for soliciting bribes even if the so-called bribery payments are unrelated to the Congressman's official duties, then doesn't that mean every former Congressperson/Senator who goes to work for a lobbying firm selling his or her influence and connections is guilty of the same thing? If so, how soon can we indict John Breaux, Billy Tauzin.... pretty much all of K Street?
Those other guys continue to enjoy status as respected (and wealthy) former statesmen.  Mary Landrieu has since joined them in the pantheon of (legal, of course) influence peddlers. Bill Jefferson is still in jail.

But this week, a new Supreme Court ruling suggests that maybe he doesn't have to be
Both had those dramatic details that make a corruption case scintillating to the media and the public. For (former Virginia Governor Bob) McDonnell, it was a Rolex watch and a Ferrari ride. For Jefferson, it was the $90,000 the FBI found in his freezer.

But the true parallels lie in what McDonnell and Jefferson were doing that attracted the scrutiny of federal prosecutors. Neither McDonnell nor Jefferson was writing legislation or changing laws or issuing orders in exchange for gifts or money.

They were peddling their influence.

The court ruled in the McDonnell case that selling an "official act" can be illegal. But, according to the opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, it "must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee."

That would seem to narrow the definition most people have of what constitutes public corruption and bribery and raise doubts about whether Jefferson's efforts to broker deals for a company were, in fact, an "official act."
They experts interviewed for the article suggest that the McDonnell decision is sufficiently narrow to keep Jefferson in prison. But the principle in play here seems even murkier than it did in 2009. If the Court isn't going to put McDonnell much less Breaux or Landrieu in jail, why are Bill Jefferson and Ray Nagin, even, there right now?

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