News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JULY 23, 2006


Siegelman raises valid questions about guilt

Former Gov. Don Siegelman raised interesting points about his June 29 federal court conviction last week in a call-in television show.

Defendants found guilty of a crime usually continue to deny culpability as Mr. Siegelman did on the Tuscaloosa-based program. But what he said does need court clarification.

Is a political contribution, like the $500,000 he received from former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, an expression of free speech?

Or did Mr. Scrushy's subsequent appointment to a powerful state health board constitute a bribe?

Mr. Scrushy landed on the Alabama Certificate of Need Board after he made the contribution to Mr. Siegelman's failed education lottery campaign.

The former governor said he had to persuade Mr. Scrushy to take the appointment.

Maybe so, maybe not. But if the conviction stands, the practice of big contributors somehow winding up as administration insiders is likely to change. A lot of people might have trouble explaining how they wound up in an administration.

If the conviction stands, it might also make raising campaign funds more difficult.

The U.S. Supreme Court frowns on attempts to put lids on campaign contributions by saying they are a form of free speech.

Mr. Siegelman was convicted on seven counts, including five mail fraud and one bribery count involving his dealings with Mr. Scrushy. He was acquitted on 25 other counts, including racketeering and extortion.

The jury convicted Mr. Scrushy on all six mail fraud and bribery counts against him.

Overturning the verdicts on appeal is important to the pair personally, but whatever the outcome, these issues need clarification.

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