Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Hundreds of Rick Perry's biggest financial backers have benefited from actions he took in his official capacity as governor of Texas, according to a new article in The New York Times. Does that mean Perry, now a leading Republican candidate for president, will be targeted by federal prosecutors on bribery and fraud charges?
If the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman establishes legal precedent, the answer is yes.
The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Siegelman jury was free to "infer" that an unlawful quid pro quo existed between Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Never mind that this is contrary to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, established in McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991), that an "explicit agreement" is required for bribery cases in the context of a campaign contribution.
The trial court in the Siegelman case, and the Eleventh Circuit, essentially thumbed their noses at the standard established by the nation's highest court. And the Obama Justice Department--with the handiwork of former solicitor general and current Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan--joined in by arguing that the Siegelman case was correctly decided.
Under those circumstances, couldn't a jury "infer" that Rick Perry engaged in unlawful actions with his Texas donors? It certainly could, based on the work of The New York Times. From reporters Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo:
Two years ago, John McHale, an entrepreneur from Austin, Tex., who has given millions of dollars to Democratic candidates and causes, did something very unusual for him: he wrote a $50,000 check to a Republican candidate, Rick Perry, then seeking a third full term as governor of Texas. In September 2010, he did it again, catapulting himself into the top ranks of Mr. Perry's donors.
Mr. McHale, a Perry spokesman said after the initial donation, "understands Governor Perry's leadership has made Texas a good place to do business."
Including, it turned out, for Mr. McHale's business interests and partners. In May 2010 an economic development fund administered by the governor's office handed $3 million to G-Con, a pharmaceutical start-up that Mr. McHale helped get off the ground. At least two other executives with connections to the firm had also given Mr. Perry tens of thousands of dollars.
McHale hardly is alone. Reports The Times:
Over three terms in office, Mr. Perry's administration has doled out grants, tax breaks, contracts and appointments to hundreds of his most generous supporters and their businesses. And they have helped Mr. Perry raise more money than any politician in Texas history, donations that have periodically raised eyebrows but, thanks to loose campaign finance laws and a business-friendly political culture dominated in recent years by Republicans, have only fueled Mr. Perry's ascent.
"Texas politics does have this amazing pay-to-play culture," said Harold Cook, a Democratic political consultant.
Alabama also has been accused of having a "pay-to-play culture," and that supposedly is why the feds went after Siegelman--and still are pursuing an electronic-bingo prosecution. But transcripts in the Siegelman case show that the former governor, in fact, violated no law when he accepted a campaign donation from Scrushy and then appointed him to a state hospital board--one the former HealthSouth CEO had served on under three previous governors. After all, no "explicit agreement" instruction was given to the jury, and no evidence was presented that such an agreement existed.
If the point of the Siegelman prosecution was to discourage interactions between governors and donors, it failed. The message certainly did not get through to Rick Perry:
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