Thursday, May 5, 2011

BingoGate: Is a campaign contribution a “bribe?”

image US District Judge Myron Thompson is struggling over this question: “Is a campaign contribution a bribe under US Federal Law?”

The question is also currently before the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and that Court is being asked to render its decision on former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman's conviction. Both  cases involve a determination of when a campaign contribution constitutes a bribe under federal law.

In the landmark Siegelman case, the former Governor was convicted of “honest services” charges in a case involving  approximately $500,000 in campaign contributions he received from former HealthSouth chief, Richard Scrushy.

Those charges are similar to some of the charges leveled against the defendants in USA vs. McGregor et al, the case we’ve all come to know and love as “BingoGate.” In exchange for their votes on a controversial gambling bill that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the Alabama ballot in 2010, prosecutors allege that Milton McGregor, Ronald Gilley and a team of lobbyists conspired to bribe legislators with ginormous campaign contributions and other “items of value” in exchange for their votes.

Ronald Gilley has decided to cop a plea. Milton McGregor hasn’t stopped fighting since he allegedly pointed a finger at an arresting FBI agent and told him: “you’re making a big mistake.”

In a news report today from al.com, Thompson lamented the fact that the 11th Circuit has not yet made a ruling on Siegelman’s conviction. I have had one very well respected, very competent attorney express absolute bewilderment that a campaign contribution could ever be determined a bribe under current statutory and case law.

The key question is whether Thompson decides to throw out some of the counts against the defendants—setting up another round of appeals by the prosecution—or allows the case to go forward as specified in the indictment. Which, of course, sets up another round of appeals by the defense.

Getcha some popcorn, folks. Regardless of which side Thompson falls on, this is going to be a long, complicated case and it’s one for the Alabama history books.

Extra Point: This and the Siegelman case are likely both headed for the US Supreme Court. The “honest services” charge is one that is far from settled across the land, and there are other similar cases making their way through the federal judiciary as well. So, it’s probably one for the USA History books, too.  Aren’t you glad you’re watching it unfold?

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