The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed several times in recent years that money and politics are okay as long as there is no quid pro quo. They have even opined that campaign contributions that, in effect pay for access, are okay. And I recall a justice stating that there is no evidence that money necessarily corrupts. That last comment was in connection with a Montana case where the state’s legislature passed a law limiting contributions based on their findings that money can have a corrupting influence. An activist conservative Supreme Court overturned the Montana law despite the will of the people of that state.
Where does one start when it comes to corrupt public officials that have made the news just in the last 12 months alone? I have already written in this space about former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, currently on trial on multiple counts of taking money and gifts from a businessman seeking the governor’s support to promote his product. Following that trial has been like watching a movie. A seemingly decent man and his wife couldn’t resist the largess their new friend bestowed on them, largess that amounted to $177,000. In fact, the governor claims that he thought they were friends even though they met for the first time during the governor’s campaign when the businessman offered the use of his private jet with “no strings attached.” Nary a red flag was raised in McDonnell’s mind. Just a nice guy wanting to be helpful. And don’t forget that McDonnell cloaked much of his governing style under the self-professed guise of being a good Christian.
I don’t think that McDonnell is an evil man. He better fits the pattern of someone living beyond his means, someone with a certain sense of entitlement to a lifestyle that he couldn’t afford. He has admitted to receiving the money and gifts, but has been trying to assure the triers of his fate that he didn’t give the businessman anything for it. In following this case very closely, I am very dubious that the jury is going to be persuaded by that argument. At least I hope not.
Closer to home, former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer has waived being indicted on corruption charges and will plead guilty to an information. U.S. Attorney Sally Yates has stated emphatically that there will be no deal that doesn’t include a prison sentence. I never doubted for a New York minute that Yates would submit to lawyer blandishments of why incarceration was not appropriate. She has never wavered in her 25 years as a federal prosecutor from seeking harsh penalties for those who put their public positions up for sale.
Boyer was as bad as they come. She egregiously misused the government credit card provided to her, and she created a scheme in which a self-professed “man of the cloth” became a consultant for her, but in fact provided no services, and then kicked back close to a hundred thousand dollars to her. Sadly, Boyer and her husband had come upon hard times, but to assuage the pressures she was under, she used taxpayer money to pay for expensive hotels, ski trips, her cell phone, and so much more. Cold cash compresses at the public’s expense made her a better commissioner---at least in her own mind. To compound her venality, she touted herself as the taxpayer’s advocate in cutting spending. She has brought new meaning to the word hypocrisy.
Corruption cases are very difficult to make and to prove. There are rarely smoking guns. Deals are cut in secret, and almost always both parties to any agreement are happy with the arrangements since each is getting some kind of benefit. Investigations, like the two I cited above, often begin because things are out of the ordinary, and facts and circumstances create a reasonable suspicion that something doesn’t seem quite right. There is no proof of wrongdoing at that point, but in connecting the few factual dots that are available, there could be enough information to warrant an investigation to probe deeper, to flesh out additional details---or not---to determine if any laws were broken.
The Braves stadium deal, in my opinion, deserves to be analyzed more closely. It would take an investigative body with subpoena power to do it any justice. There are any number of records that should be reviewed to examine and compare key dates, phone records, emails and texts, calendars, memoranda, letters, and more. There is no attorney/client privilege between Commission Chairman Tim Lee and Dan McRae, who Lee has acknowledged was merely an advisor or consultant and not his or the county’s attorney. Each could testify and provide a narrative of events.
I support the Braves coming to Cobb County. Like many other Cobb taxpayers, though, I have questions about how the deal was done. Why not put these concerns to rest for once and for all? Perhaps a good place to start would be the State Ethics Board, a civil body. If their findings lead to something more, they have the power to refer them to another appropriate body. If I was Tim Lee, I would welcome such investigation to remove all the controversy for once and for all. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it would restore confidence in our local government.