Group Blasts Ex-Gov. McDonnell’s Appeal

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A campaign finance watchdog group is urging the Supreme Court to reject former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s bid to reverse his public corruption charges.
     The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit that promotes ethical campaign funding principles, says that reversing McDonnell’s conviction would create a new precedent protecting government officials from being prosecuted under federal bribery laws.
     McDonnell was found guilty of 11 counts of corruption before a federal jury in September 2014 and sentenced to two years in prison.
     The Fourth Circuit upheld the verdict last July, finding that the former governor acted in his official capacity when he accepted about $175,000 in lavish gifts and loans from supplement manufacturing CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for perks such as taxpayer-funded university research for the unregulated drug Anatabloc.
     In his appeal, McDonnell says prosecutors failed to prove his corrupt intent, and that he did not abuse his position when he leveraged meetings with state officials and events at the governor’s mansion.
     Such preferential treatment is constitutionally protected, McDonnell claims, citing decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, where the U.S. Supreme Court recognized donors’ right to political access through campaign contributions.
     On the contrary, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) says in an amicus brief filed last week that policies were designed to target bribery preemptively, not to protect decision-making government officials from accepting personal gifts and loans quid pro quo.
     “While a donor may choose to give gifts to the officeholders whose policies she admires, the gift itself in no way advances such policies. Unlike a campaign contribution, a gift does not finance the drafting of position papers or platforms, fund rallies or debates, or underwrite the development of a campaign advertisement. It simply benefits the recipient personally,” the CLC brief states.
     Since the Supreme Court announced in January that it would review the former governor’s conviction, hundreds of current and former politicians, policy advocates and law experts have voiced their support of McDonnell. The CLC’s opposing brief is one of the first to be submitted in the case.
     “If McDonnell is successful in getting the court to recognize a constitutional right to buy ‘access’ and to extend protections for campaign spending to private gifts to elected officials, then government truly is for sale,” the CLC said on its website.
     McDonnell is scheduled to have his appeal heard before the Supreme Court on April 27 and is represented by Noel J. Francisco of Jones Day, who has not responded to an emailed request for comment.

%d bloggers like this: