The stunned shock when former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted on questionable federal fraud charges turned into disbelief and concern from his supporters and even some of his adversaries.
Those concerns were addressed Sunday in an article by Bob Rayner in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (see After the verdict: More indictments?):
Most people seem to agree that Bob and Maureen McDonnells’ convictions on multiple federal counts of corruption marked a sad day for the family and for Virginia, a reflection of both the McDonnells’ poor judgment and the commonwealth’s weak and confusing laws about gifts to public officials.
All well and true, but that reaction misses the deeply chilling implications of the federal government’s prosecution of the former Virginia governor and his wife. And it ignores the potentially devastating consequences for many of the state’s top elected leaders from recent decades. If the precedent set in this case is followed to its only just and logical conclusion, federal prosecutors must investigate leaders if they received personal gifts from individuals who subsequently benefited from the recipients’ official acts. [emphasis added]
And therein is the crux of it all. Every politician in the country should be quaking in his or her boots after the travesty of justice that just occurred in Virginia.
Rayner pointed out:
The most unfortunate consequence of the McDonnell case is that it so powerfully compels criminal investigation of other principled public servants for accepting expensive gifts from individuals and later using official acts to reward them, even in the absence of any explicit quid pro quo.
… no charges were filed against the McDonnells alleging violation of Virginia law. Federal prosecutors instead chose to criminalize practices deemed legal by Virginia law and retroactively apply these newly minted standards to one Republican governor and his wife.
I would urge you to read Rayner’s entire article because he covered very effectively the question of whether the McDonnell convictions could have far-reaching repercussions.
Which brings up the question asked by Bearing Drift’s Brian Schoeneman: Why on earth would anyone run for office today?
It’s easy to understand why anybody would think that – just ask the folks who’ve run. Politics has never been for the faint of heart. That’s why it’s so rare for anybody to actually choose to run. A recently released Pew Research study puts the total number of Americans who have run for public office at a whopping 2%.
Why is that number so low?
Have Americans stopped wanting to participate in government? Are we giving up on democracy and our republican form of government? Is it apathy?
I don’t think it’s any of those things. I think the reason so few people choose to run for office these days is because we have made the process of running one of the most awful, humiliating, degrading and physically demanding things anybody can do.
The examples are all around us. The internet, social media, blogs, and our voyeuristic culture have made running for office a living hell. The anonymity of the web, the ubiquitous comments sections, and a disturbing lack of humanity in many people make running for office unthinkable to so many of the people we need in public life.
Criticism, mocking, photoshopping, name-calling, no privacy — your life is on display and an open book. And much more. The Bob McDonnell indictments open a whole new can of worms for those in politics. Brian adds:
If that wasn’t enough to deter almost everybody, it gets worse. Imagine what happens now if you win. Be prepared for the newest craze – the criminalization of politics.
The examples are everywhere. Republican presidential candidates are getting hit left and right with investigations and indictments. Bob McDonnell is an obvious example. Rick Perry gets indicted for exercising a valid constitutional prerogative of the Governor of Texas – his veto power. Chris Christie, Scott Walker – the list of criminal investigations against politicians is growing longer every month with no end in sight. And this is true at every level. Just look at the bogus investigations of Shaun Kenney, spun up by political opponents.
It’s not right. Not only have we made it unthinkable for many people to ever seek office, we’re going after the ones we do and threatening them with jail time if they anger the wrong people.
This is a dangerous path we are on. We are actively deterring good people from ever wanting to do these jobs.
In these turbulent political waters, where do we go for principled leaders like Bob McDonnell who was fair to Virginia citizens on the left and right? To have a man of his character destroyed should be a wake-up call to all.