The following is an excerpt from, "The Governor of Goat Hill," devoted to explaining the federal bribery statutes and quid pro quo -- Latin for, "something for something."
What constitutes the bribing of a public official?
That seemingly simple question was at the heart of the Siegelman case and the
post-verdict reporting and commentary on his conviction.
Siegelman and those who joined his army after Jill Simpson’s affidavit
relentlessly characterized the two $250,000 contributions at the heart of the
HealthSouth case as routine campaign donations. From there, they asserted that
Siegelman was prosecuted for acts no different than any other politician when
raising campaign funds.
As Siegelman told the New York Times in a spring 2008 interview, if his conviction
was upheld, then “every governor and every president and every contributor might
as well turn themselves in, because it’s going to be open season on them.”
In consideration of the national controversy regarding the Siegelman case, the
author deems that it will be instructive to explain the federal bribery statutes that
were the basis of most of the guilty counts against Siegelman and Scrushy.
In March 2009, when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions
of both men, it noted that the $500,000 helped Siegelman pay off a $730,000
loan to the lottery foundation for which he was a personal guarantor. As such, the
two $250,000 checks satisfied the personal benefit standard, even though, as the
judges stated, that standard wasn’t necessary for conviction.
For the sake of argument, let ’s pretend there was no personal benefit – in
other words, no loan guaranteed by Siegelman. Furthermore, imagine that the
two contributions were properly reported to the secretary of state and the Internal
Revenue Service, as of course they were not. We will also suspend disbelief and
ignore the long strange trip of the first $250,000 check, from Integrated Health
in Maryland by way of UBS Securities in New York; down to Scrushy’s office
at HealthSouth; into Siegelman’s hands in Montgomery; the long stay-over at
Darren Cline’s apartment; the check’s return to Siegelman and, lastly, its deposit
into a Birmingham bank.
Instead, let’s analyze the half-million dollars handed Scrushy to Siegelman
as their lawyers and Siegelman’s supporters in the national media and the U.S.
House Judiciary Committee presented it.
As best as I can tell, their position is that the giving and receiving of a campaign
contribution can not constitute a crime; that for a public official to be guilty of
bribery, he or she must personally benefit, such as from a bag of cash delivered
underneath a table.
That is, thank goodness, not the case. Among other things, the Siegelman
position presumes the non-existence of what are commonly called campaign
To illustrate the fallacy of their position, here are two fictional examples of the
giving of money to a politician. One is a crime, the other is not.
Example One: Bob, the owner of Bridge Engineering, Inc., visits Gov. John
Doe and gives him a personal check for $1 million. Not a campaign donation,
mind you, but money for the governor to spend as he pleases, such as to pay off
A month later, Gov. Doe orders his highway director to award a $15 million
contract to Bridge Engineering, claiming he’s heard great things about the fi rm.
A year later, federal investigators learn of the two transactions – the giving
of the $1 million and the awarding of the $15 million contract. However, they
are unable to disprove the claims by governor and businessman that during the
pivotal meeting the pair discussed the weather and the upcoming Alabama-
Example Two: Sam, the owner of a small company that cuts grass along
state highways, visits Governor Doe to seek his help regarding a dispute with the
highway department. Sam tells the governor that the department is refusing to
pay $3,000 in charges incurred when his company was asked to cut additional
grass not included in his contract. He makes a strong case that his little business
deserves the money. He is simply asking for the state to treat him fairly.
The governor tells Sam he will guarantee that his company gets its money,
on one condition: That Sam contribute $250 to his re-election campaign. Soon
thereafter, Sam sends the governor’s campaign a $250 check. His company gets its
$3,000 payment and the governor reports Sam’s donation to the secretary of state.
Federal investigators find evidence indicating that the $3,000 payment to
Sam’s company was contingent upon his $250 campaign donation.
The first example is $1 million into the governor ’s pocket. The second is a
$250 campaign contribution. Which is a violation of federal bribery statutes?
It ’s the $250 donation. Sam gave the contribution after being told he must
in order to get his company’s overtime money. Thus, the elements were there
for a quid pro quo – Latin for “something for something” – and that is what is
necessary to convict a public official of bribery.
That the $250 campaign donation led to a provable crime while the $1 million
gift did not may violate our sense of the way things should be. But that’s the way it
is. Like it or not, those are the rules that prosecutors must abide by when seeking
to bring bribery-based charges against public officials.
If anything, courts have in recent years made it harder to convict public
officials of bribery. There was a time when example one would have constituted
bribery, but a host of appellate court rulings, to the vexation of prosecutors, have
placed a high hurdle on bribery or quid pro quo cases.
That ’s why Lanny Young’s payment of $25,000 to Paul Hamrick so Siegelman’s
chief of staff could drive a new BMW did not on its own satisfy the standards for
a bribery charge. There was no evidence linking the $25,000 to a specific act by
Hamrick, and the government acknowledged as much.
That ’s why the payment – which so clearly entailed personal benefit – was not
brought as an extortion (flipside of bribery) charge against Hamrick.
However, the prosecutors did claim – and prove to the jury ’s satisfaction – a
quid pro quo between Scrushy and Siegelman on the two $250,000 checks to the