Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer
Democracy 21 is very disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision in the McDonnell case, which greatly undermines the interests of the American people in honest and fair public officials.
The Supreme Court decision belies reality. If you show the facts in the case to any citizen, the citizen will conclude that the public official has sold his office for personal, financial gain.
This decision is bound to further undermine the already low confidence of citizens in government and public officeholders.
There was a corrupt bargain at work here, and the Supreme Court has disarmed the ability of the American people to police similar corruption in the future.
This ruling opens the door to a “pay to play” culture in government, so long as the gift-receiving official does not make a government decision or take an official government action.
In essence, the Supreme Court has said it is perfectly legal for an officeholder to sell certain types of actions taken by the officeholder in return for large amounts of money going into the officeholder’s pocket.
The Court decision narrowly reads the “honest services” statute to allow a public official to freely accept lavish gifts from a businessman who is seeking government promotion and help for his product, and for that official then to set up meetings and provide access to other officials to help the businessman.
While the Court leaves open the possibility that Governor McDonnell can be retried for violating the law as the Court has now construed the statute, the narrow and highly technical reading of the statute offered by the Court today greatly weakens existing legal protections against government corruption.
The facts in this case were not about a public official’s normal “responsiveness” to a constituent. They were about a brazen and successful attempt to buy an official’s endorsement of and support for a product and that official’s assistance in promoting that product within the government.