Friday, June 30, 2006

Former Alabama Governor Convicted of Bribery and Corruption Charges

As Sallie Owen and Bill Barrow report in the Mobile Register, on Thursday, a jury found former Alabama Governor Richard Siegelman guilty on six counts of corruption-related charges in connection with $500,000 in campaign contributions he received from HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was also convicted. In return for the $500k, Siegelman put Scrushy on the state Certificate of Need Review Board, which oversees hospital expansions.

Siegelman and Scrushy still protest their innocence and promise to appeal what Scrushy's lawyer calls "the worst miscarriage of justice since General Sherman burned Atlanta". (Apparently he hasn't been watching the World Cup matches.)

The $500k went to Siegelman's campaign fund to support a failed lottery initiative. As we've seen in other states with the initiative process, politicians have figured out that a great way to advance themselves as candidates is to push a ballot measure. At the same time, bigtime donors have figured out that a great way to curry favor with politicians is to give a ton of money to their ballot initiative committees. And when you put the two together, you have a perfect peanut butter cup blend of systemic, if not personal, corruption.

This is not the first time Siegelman has stuck his thumb in the eye of Alabama democracy. In 1989, when he was the state attorney general, Siegelman interpreted Alabama's limit on corporate contributions of $500 per candidate as permitting corporations to funnel unlimited funds through PACs. The ruling served as spring rain for PACs in the state, which doubled in number in the years that followed, allowing wealthy corporations to multiply their campaign donations many times over.

Yesterday's decision by a jury of his peers suggests that Mr. Siegelman's cavalier attitude towards the representation that his fellow Alabamans deserve may have finally caught up with him.

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