Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Federal Corruption Statutes - Bribery - Definition of "Official Act"

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Federal Corruption Statutes - Bribery - Definition of "Official Act"

Article excerpt

Most people would assume that giving $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits to a sitting governor while trying to secure his state's help in launching your business would be unequivocally illegal. Most people would now be wrong, despite thirty-eight states prohibiting the receipt of an equivalent amount in campaign contributions. (1) Last Term, in McDonnell v. United States, (2) the Supreme Court held that the federal bribery statute's definition of "official act" does not include "arranging a meeting, contacting another public official, or hosting an event" without the presence of something "more." (3) The Court emphasized the consequences of a broader interpretation, but failed to consider existing limitations on federal anticorruption laws and the decision's potential to further undermine participation in the democratic process by facilitating the appearance of corruption. However, the resulting definition still encompasses pressuring others to take an official action, taking initial steps toward an official action, and giving advice that will form the basis of an official action. These qualifications reduce the likelihood that the decision will hamper future prosecutions.

Robert McDonnell's campaign for Virginia Governor focused on job growth, and Jonnie Williams thought he could advance that agenda. (4) Williams headed Star Scientific, a Virginia company developing a nutritional supplement called Anatabloc. (5) Star needed research showing the drug's health benefits, which Virginia's public universities could perform if they received state grants. (6) The two men were introduced during McDonnell's 2009 campaign, and shortly thereafter the businessman asked McDonnell for help. (7) McDonnell agreed to introduce Williams to Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Resources. (8) A few months later, McDonnell's wife Maureen suggested Williams sit next to her husband at a rally, and Williams bought her $20,000 worth of designer clothing as thanks. (9) Over dinner at the governor's mansion, the three then discussed the proposed studies. (10)

At the same time, the McDonnells' longtime money problems became acute. (11) Mrs. McDonnell told Williams that her husband said, "it's okay for me to help you ... but I need you to help me." (12) Williams consequently gave the McDonnells $65,000. (13) The Governor began to set up more meetings for Williams with state agencies, and Williams lent the McDonnells his vacation home and Ferrari. (14) At Mrs. McDonnell's suggestion, he also purchased the Governor a Rolex. (15)

In August 2011, Governor McDonnell held a lunch with university researchers to launch Anatabloc. (16) Afterward, the McDonnells asked for a $50,000 loan, but Williams complained about the lack of progress. (17) Mrs. McDonnell emailed the Governor's counsel to express the Governor's desire "to get this going," and Governor McDonnell held another reception for researchers. (18) The money arrived "shortly thereafter," and the Governor then suggested the inclusion of Anatabloc in the state's employee healthcare plan to a cabinet secretary and agency head. (19) Over the next few months, Williams provided McDonnell with a third loan, golf outings, and a vacation. (20)

In January 2014, federal prosecutors indicted the by-then-former Governor. (21) The primary charges of honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion reflected the government's belief that Williams bribed McDonnell. (22) The parties stipulated that terms within both the honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion statutes would be defined by reference to a federal statute prohibiting bribery: 18 U.S.C. [section] 201. (23) Most relevant to his ultimate appeal was whether Governor McDonnell had "'receive[d] or accept[ed] anything of value' in return for being 'influenced in the performance of any official act.'" (24) The bribery statute defines an "official act" as "any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official's official capacity, or in such official's place of trust or profit. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.