I once had a professor who had this fool-proof tongue-in-cheek suggestion for cutting down on bad laws, crony capitalism, and corruption. He thought that Members of Congress or other elected officials should receive hookers, blow and cash money upon being sworn into office. They’d be too busy to draft bad laws.
The Washington Post reports that the federal agency that guides sentencing for former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell recommended at least 10 years in the hoosegow. He was convicted of, as the Post puts it, “lending the prestige of his office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury items.”
Now, even if I didn’t think that prison is where something approaching 100% of politicians belong, I’d be all for sending this guy to the slammer for trading favors for Rolexes and such. And I might note that if the Washington Post hadn’t been so busy trying to paint McDonnell as the second coming of Jonathan Edwards, the paper might have noticed he was a crony’s dream politician. But that’s a different story.
In any case, fine, McDonnell’s going away for a long time and his wife will also spend some time in the clinker. I will not cry over this.
But 10 years is a long time for luxury items! So how much is U.S. Senator Mark Warner going to get for dangling a judgeship in front of a Democratic state senator’s daughter in an effort to dissuade him from quitting office and helping Republicans?
This story is even more sordid. Virginia had an evenly divided senate. Democratic state senator Phillip Puckett resigned his seat — perhaps being lured out of it by job offers from Republicans — and threw it into Republican hands. That was very bad for Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his top legislative priority — expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. The allegations that Republicans had dangled job offers launched a federal probe akin to what happened with McConnell. But that’s when things got complicated.
It turned out that Democrats had been offering jobs to the state senator’s family. And not just any Democrats.
Sen. Mark Warner suggested a federal judgeship for Puckett’s daughter, even though she’d barely practiced any federal law. According to family members, he also “suggested a post for her at CGI, a high-tech firm Warner helped lure to Southwest Virginia when he was governor a decade ago.” You don’t say! That sounds very Bob McDonnell-like!
And McAuliffe’s chief of staff had basically promised Puckett the moon if he’d only stay in office.
So what happened? How many years for Warner and everyone else engaged in shenanigans? Did you guess no years? You would be correct, because apparently judgeships are less important than Rolexes. Or federal probes that entangle Democrats aren’t as cool as federal probes that entangle Republicans. I’m sure it all makes a ton of sense somewhere. Here’s the Washington Post:
RICHMOND — Federal prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges in the resignation of a state senator who quit amid job talks, quietly closing an episode that further tarnished Virginia’s proud reputation for clean government.
Listen, trading one’s office for shady personal and political favors is always bad. It’s not just bad when the other party does it. I don’t share the Washington Post’s opinion that Virginia has a proud reputation for clean government but whatever its history, it definitely has a tarnished reputation now.
This isn’t about whether McDonnell should be punished for his corruption. He should. But as I wrote in “Prison For D’Souza, Beach Time For Corzine,” selective enforcement of the law is a dangerous thing.
And Virginia isn’t alone. Remember this story from October?
Just a week after Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) recommended a North Carolina judge to President Barack Obama for a seat in the U.S. District Court, the judge ruled in favor of a company partially owned by Hagan’s husband.
We need dispassionate prosecutors to root out corruption regardless of the political affiliation of the accused. Maybe there’s a really good answer for why the law should care more about luxury items and loans than state posts, crony jobs and federal judgeships, but I haven’t heard it yet.