I’m in Prison for Practicing Politics
Under the legal arguments the prosecutors used to convict me, all fundraising can be viewed as bribery.
May 28, 2018 10:22 a.m. ET
The rule of law is under assault in America. It is being perverted and abused by the people sworn to enforce and uphold it. Some in the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are abusing their power to criminalize the routine practices of politics and government.
I learned the hard way what happens when an investigation comes up empty after the government has invested time, resources and manpower. When they can’t prove a crime, they create one. Did you know that an elected official asking for a campaign contribution is the same as a dirty cop asking a motorist for a cash bribe to tear up a speeding ticket? I never did. Yet that’s what a federal prosecutor told the jury during my second trial on bribery and extortion charges in 2011.
ILLUSTRATION: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Fundraising is a routine and necessary part of America’s political system. You can’t compete in politics, and you can’t govern from a position of strength, if you are perceived as weak. Building and maintaining a healthy war chest helps lead to success. For most people in the political arena, the fundraising part of the job is no fun. I liken it to exercise. It hurts but it makes you healthy and strong.
The jury in my case was instructed to infer a quid pro quo even though no favors were offered or exchanged. The prosecutor told the jurors that if they felt I’d had a belief, expectation or hope that I might receive a campaign contribution because of actions I took as governor, they had to convict me. It didn’t matter that no evidence existed that explicit promises had been made.
Let me be clear: I never accepted gifts, vacations, clothes, jewelry or flights on fancy jets in exchange for my political influence. Whenever I went to a Chicago Cubs game, I paid for my own tickets. Yet here I am in my sixth year of a 14-year prison sentence for the routine practice of attempting to raise campaign funds while governor.
So today from prison, I am warning all candidates and elected officials to watch out. This new, lesser standard used against me to infer a quid pro quo can now be used against you, too. And the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to take up this issue means the lesser standard has been accepted as law. The justices’ denial last month of my appeal request is catastrophic for me, and it will in all likelihood prove calamitous to some of you. Politically motivated prosecutors can now interfere with and undo free and fair elections.
As the 2018 campaign heats up, my advice to those running for elective office is to cease and desist from any further fundraising. Stop now before it is too late. Wait until the law is clarified and the line clearly drawn. Otherwise you are playing a dangerous game of chance. Overzealous and ambitious prosecutors know they can rise to higher office by coming after you.
Two years ago, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had his corruption conviction reversed by the Supreme Court in an 8-0 vote. During oral arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer warned about federal prosecutors bringing criminal charges against government officials for what he described as “routine practices” such as fundraising. “To give that kind of power to a criminal prosecutor, who is virtually uncontrollable, is dangerous to the separation of powers,” Justice Breyer said.
It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you come from. Every officeholder who raises money is potentially at risk. Those who value freedom and love our country had better wake up.
Mr. Blagojevich was governor of Illinois, 2003-09.