Monday, April 13, 2009

The Proximity of the Quid to the Quo

The following is an article in the Chicago Tribune that speaks volumes about seemingly normal practices by politicians.

Under Tyranny of Everyday Hypocrisy
By Ronald L. Trowbridge
April 10, 2009

The fatal flaw in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged schemes of pay-to-play politics could come down to the quid being too close to the quo. Had the separation been wider, it would have been business as usual among politicians in Springfield or Washington. Sweetheart deals happen all the time in state capitols and in Congress, where politicians are more circumspect. Examples abound:
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, got two sweetheart, low-rate mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp. for his home in Connecticut and condo in Washington.
Organized labor spent millions of dollars and provided truckloads of campaign workers for presidential candidate Barack Obama, apparently in hopes—hint, hint—of return favors such as supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, popularly called the card-check bill, which would eliminate secret union ballots.
Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania unilaterally awarded a lucrative no-bid contingency fee contract to the Houston law firm of Bailey, Perrin & Bailey, which had contributed more than $90,000 to the governor's 2006 re-election bid.
Michelle Obama was employed by the University of Chicago Medical Center. Her husband, as a U. S. senator, requested a $1 million earmark for the center.
The gazillion dollars spent on earmarks for bridges back home are rife with quid separating quo just long enough to appear as constituent democracy in action.
When Dodd, organized labor, Rendell, Obama and Congress do it, it's called "democracy," or "lobbying" or "free speech." When Blagojevich does it, with the quid too close to the quo, it's called "a crime." He was indicted for "efforts to illegally obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official action"—not much different from "efforts to legally obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official action." In William Shakespeare's words, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"—on sweetheart deals.
Though Blagojevich has been indicted on 16 counts, including racketeering conspiracy, extortion (and conspiring to extort), wire fraud and lying to federal agents, the court's finding of guilt just might not be the slam-dunk result assumed.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has appointed a new prosecutor, Mary Patrice Brown, to oversee the office that investigates ethics violations by Justice Department attorneys, following the news that federal prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from former Sen. Ted Stevens' defense attorneys. And former Durham County District Atty. Mike Nifong withheld exculpatory DNA results from defense attorneys for the Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape.
U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald is not without fault. His inflammatory, extrajudicial, prejudicial comments at his Dec. 9 news conference announcing criminal charges against Blagojevich violated ethical guidelines of the Department of Justice.
His declarations that Blagojevich's conduct was "appalling" and that the governor had gone on a "political corruption crime spree" were way out of bounds.
Is there exculpatory evidence in the plethora of Blagojevich's secretly recorded telephone conversations? We don't and can't know yet.
In the meantime, we should reserve judgment and grant him the due process enumerated by the 5th Amendment.

Ronald L. Trowbridge was chief of staff to Chief Justice Warren Burger and the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U. S. Constitution.

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