It's usually difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a campaign contribution influenced a public official to take an official action. That's why other ways to limit the influence of money in politics, such as disclosure rules and limits on contributions, are so important. But sometimes the link between cause and effect is so clear that a politician can be convicted of criminal bribery. The Supreme Court last week wisely refused to make such convictions harder to achieve.
The justices refused to hear the appeal of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who was convicted of reappointing a healthcare executive named Richard Scrushy to a state hospital board as a reward for Scrushy's $500,000 contribution to a campaign fund backing a statewide lottery to fund education.
Although Siegelman didn't personally benefit from Scrushy's largesse, the lottery was one of his political priorities and its approval by the voters would have burnished his reputation. For Scrushy, an appointment to the hospital board was important because that body was responsible for determining the number of healthcare facilities in the state.
The Siegelman case attracted national attention partly because the former Democratic governor claimed that his prosecution by the Justice Department under PresidentGeorge W. Bush was politically motivated. (The Obama administration, however, defended the verdict.) But Siegelman's conviction also was criticized for criminalizing business as usual in politics.