The Crime of Getting Caught

(cc photo wharman)

(cc photo wharman)

Local politician caught up in some petty corruption:

The 48-page indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, comes after a years-long FBI investigation into consulting work [Maryland State Senator Ulysses] Currie (D-Prince George’s) did for Shoppers Food and Pharmacy. Over six years, the indictment alleges, Currie took action to help Shoppers sell liquor at one store, save money in the construction of another store and buy land. Two former Shoppers officials also were indicted by the federal grand jury.

Shoppers hired Currie to work as a consultant focusing on public affairs, minority recruitment, and outreach and community relations. But in reality, prosecutors allege, Shoppers paid him to use his Senate seat to benefit the company’s business and financial interests.

Not to justify this kind of (alleged) behavior, but the thing that always strikes me about these kind of cases is how little political conduct would stand up to exacting scrutiny of the theory that quid pro quos are illegal. If I told you that the senators from Arkansas are skeptical about legislation to make it easier to form labor unions, and that skepticism about that legislation is helpful for the financial interests of Wal-Mart, and that Wal-Mart is the most important company in Arkansas, and that Wal-Mart executives give money to the senators from Arkansas, and that this whole nexus is not entirely coincidental I don’t think you would find that to be a shocking allegation. On the contrary. It’s banal to observe that mutually beneficial relationships exist between politicians and interest groups. And it’s super-banal to observe that legislators bargain with one another to support bills or amendments.

Which is to say that suppose instead of Currie being on Shoppers’ payroll, it was simply the case that Shoppers had its headquarters in his district. And Shoppers executives contributed to his campaigns. And that a former Currie staffer was Vice President for Public Affairs at Shoppers. And also that Currie sponsored some legislation friendly to Shoppers’ bottom line aimed at bringing supermarkets to poor neighborhoods and showed up at the “grand openings” of these supermarkets for ribbon-cutting ceremonies. That’s just politics.

I’m never sure exactly where this line of thought leads. But when you look at something like the Blagojevic wiretapping evidence, you’ve got to wonder what would show up if we wiretapped lots of other politicians on their fundraising calls or internal discussions with staff.