The Short: Supreme Court decision on McDonnell opens worrying new horizons for corruption
The broader import of the Supreme Court’s judgment, however, goes far beyond the case of the McDonnells, who could be tried again.
The Long: The broader import of the Supreme Court’s judgment, however, goes far beyond the case of the McDonnells, who could be tried again.
Instead of creating a chilling effect on our politics, the court has warmed them up, endorsing the cozy relationship between those with access and resources and those they wish to influence — as long as it does not rise to a documented payment or exchange of assets or favors in a regulatory, legislative or electoral matter.
Here, the justices found that the jury was not properly instructed by the prosecutors regarding what an official act by an elected official entails.
A more limited interpretation of the term 'official act' leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court." As Justice Stephen Breyer indicated during oral arguments, it is normal for politicians to urge attention be paid to the concerns of constituents, and the line between such activity and corruption is not always clear.
As election law expert Richard Hasen argued in defense of the decision, however, “The rules governing political action need to be clear enough so that politicians know the line between politics as usual and crossing the line.” While there’s no doubt that letting the public see how elected officials are being influenced by favors, real-time disclosure of those gifts may heighten our sense of influence gone wild than to serve as the check and balance our politics require.