This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell didn’t break corruption laws when he pulled political favors for a big donor in return for lavish gifts and personal loans. That kind of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” behavior is not barred by current corruption laws, the Court decided; in other words, corruption is legal in America.
Governor McDonnell was originally convicted of public corruption back in 2014. The charges against him were fairly straightforward: during his time in office, he and his wife received a $20,000 shopping spree, tens of thousands of dollars in private loans, a Rolex, and more from a wealthy constituent named Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., who was peddling a dietary supplement called Anatabloc. In return, the governor gave Williams special treatment: arranging high-level political meetings where Williams could promote his supplement, hosting an event on Williams’ behalf at the governor’s mansion, and encouraging universities to do research that could move Anatabloc more quickly through the regulatory process.
Governor McDonnell appealed the corruption conviction, and his case rose all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, the Court ruled that McDonnell was just engaging in politics as usual – a verdict that will, as longtime constitutional scholar and corruption expert Zephyr Teachout wrote in the New York Times, “overturn more than 700 years of history, make bad law, and leave citizens facing a crisis of political corruption with even fewer tools to fight it.”
Today’s ruling just goes to show: if we’re tired of pay-to-play corruption in American government, we need to pass laws that make corruption illegal.