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First Amendment

Turow Links Blagojevich Verdict and ‘Hypocritical Mess’ of Campaign Finance

Posted Aug 18, 2010 6:43 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Legal thriller author Scott Turow sees a connection between Rod Blagojevich’s conviction on just one count of lying to the FBI and “the hypocritical mess our campaign financing system has become.”

Jurors were split on the other 23 counts in the political corruption trial, with just one holdout refusing to convict on the charge that the former Illinois governor tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, according to the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Writing in the New York Times, Turow cites evidence that, at first glance, appears to weigh in favor of conviction. Government wiretaps caught Blagojevich threatening to refuse to sign legislation helping the harness racing industry until he can get a $100,000 campaign donation. Evidence also showed he threatened to hold up an increase in pediatric Medicaid reimbursements until he could get a contribution from a hospital executive.

Turow goes on to say the failure to convict nonetheless “makes some sense.” He points to the Citizens United case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in January that found corporations have a First Amendment right to make independent political donations, even in the days before elections. Now, limits on direct contributions to candidates are also likely to fall, he writes.

“In any case, the bevy of ways in which donors can get around current spending laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s elastic approach to the First Amendment, have left our campaign finance system as little more than a form of legalized influence-buying,” Turow says. Only those who are naïve or “as crass and ham-handed as Rod Blagojevich find themselves subject to prosecution, while others wise enough to say less out loud find snug protection in the First Amendment, no matter how bald their desire to influence government actions.”

The answer, Turow suggests, lies in a constitutional amendment that allows restrictions on campaign spending. “Without that,” he writes, “who could fault a juror for looking around at contemporary political life and feeling that Rod Blagojevich had been unfairly singled out?

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