If McDonnell deserves jail time …

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The aftermath of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s fall from grace will tell us much about the motives and fairness of federal prosecutors and the sincerity of state lawmakers who say they want to cleanse Virginia government of influence peddling.

If McDonnell’s clumsy dalliance with a snake-oil salesman was a federal crime worth two years in the pen, then the Bureau of Prisons needs to fluff the pillows in its minimum-security cells and brace for an influx of new white-collar convicts. Half the suits in Richmond and Washington could end up there.

That is, assuming that justice is truly blind and not selectively meted.

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Having not heard the weeks of testimony that caused a jury of his peers to find McDonnell guilty of 11 felony corruption charges last fall, I defer to their judgment — and to that of the judge who decided the crimes merit imprisonment (even if for only a third of the time prosecutors had sought).

McDonnell’s crime was to talk up a dietary supplement created by a slick fellow named Jonnie Williams, who in turned showered the governor and his wife with gifts and trips. McDonnell never pushed for legislation or took any other official action that would have padded Williams’ pockets.

Meantime, lawmakers in Washington, Richmond and even right here in Suffolk routinely accept campaign contributions, gifts and junkets from private interests, then turn right around and cast votes that directly benefit the donors.

Take, for example, the Tidewater developer who was told in no uncertain terms by city planners and City Council members last spring and summer that he would not be allowed to build apartments on Bridge Road in North Suffolk.

He contributed to the re-election campaigns of a couple of council members a few months later and, voila, he will soon begin construction on the apartments the city swore it would never allow.

State lawmakers who are pontificating about strong ethics reform in the wake of the McDonnell scandal should start with a very simple law: Any state or local lawmaker who accepts money or valuable gifts from a business interest (individual or company) must recuse himself from all future votes affecting that interest.

Even before such a law is passed, prosecutors should be licking their chops to go after corruption that makes McDonnell’s actions seem trivial.

Such as the officials, both Democrat and Republican, who all but bribed a state senator in order to keep their party in power in Richmond.

The FBI purports to be investigating the sordid tale of Sen. Phil Puckett, the southwest Virginia Democrat whose abrupt resignation from the Virginia Senate last summer tilted the chamber to Republican control just in time to nix a major expansion of Medicaid sought by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Leaked emails and voice messages reveal that Puckett and a relative were offered jobs and who knows what else to either leave the Senate or stay, depending on the party affiliation of the pursuer.

If McDonnell’s crimes were enough to put him in jail, Puckett’s suitors surely deserve a cell of their own.