The former Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and his wife received gifts, trips, loans, and other items from a lobbyist of a pharmaceutical company. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court the justices seemed to be of the opinion that the way McDonnell went about doing his business was perfectly normal. Their line of questioning seemed to indicate that accepting trips, gifts, loans, and other largesse from lobbyists was so pervasive that to put McDonnell in prison would essentially open every politician to such prosecution and bring government to a stop. That a political motivated prosecutor could attack anyone from the opposite party at will.
The final decision indicates the court thinks corruption is completely institutionalized and there is nothing to be done about it. They vacated the sentence against McDonnell in a unanimous decision.
The point seems to be that for a government official to be charged with corruption related crimes they must state a willingness to work on behalf of the person giving the bribe. If they simply take the bribe and give that person access to public officials and work to pass legislation helping the briber, that is not a crime. Only if the politician explicitly declares he or she plans to help the person in exchange for the gifts is it a crime. Good to know … if you’re a politician or a lobbyist. Don’t ask, don’t tell indeed. Here’s a trip to Europe for you and your family, a house for your child, a Rolex for you, say no more, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
So, you are probably wondering, where do you stand on this issue, Tom? I’m glad you asked because I’m happy to tell you.
The Supreme Court Justices were perfectly correct. If what McDonnell does passes for criminal corruption then there are precious few members of Congress that should not be in jail. It is the norm. Lobbyist providing fine dinners, alcohol, sports tickets, trips, business favors to family and friends, loans, and gifts is rampant and pervasive. A zealous president with no morals, a mean streak, and a vindictive personality could well order the Justice Department to attack and imprison all foes using this case as a precedent.
It’s reality. I certainly don’t like it but I’m also a pragmatist and I don’t think there is a judicial fix to the corruption that pervades our system of government. Crony capitalism is entrenched.
What to do? There is no simple answer. The main issue seems to me to be that legislators control how well a business does by passing legislation that favors one company or another. By allowing politicians to control business we invite corruption. If we limit laws regulating businesses we limit the interest a business owner has in influencing a politician and the ability of said politician to favor a particular business.
The less power government has the less interested is anyone in influencing the politicians.