Don Siegelman should be a star in the Democratic Party. Instead, he's a former elected official sentenced to prison by a right-wing judge in Alabama.
Siegelman had the temerity to be a popular Alabama Democrat who'd won every statewide office by 1998, when he first became governor. With Jewish and Catholic roots, and empathic appeal to minorities, he threatened the GOP "southern strategy" for a dominant one-party Republican nation. To the GOP, Siegelman was potentially Another Clinton -- as repellent to them as Another Cuba.
U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a friend of Karl Rove's, incited Siegelman's prosecution for bribery, destroying his political career and hurting his family. Read this letter signed by 113 former attorneys general and other national leaders, both Democrat and Republican. They assert that the prosecuted "bribe" wasn't one, and that, if this conviction stands, it threatens every public official and contributor at every level of government. Such routine transactions, if prosecuted, would choke our courts.
The "bribe"? Don Siegelman wanted to create a state lottery that would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state college for free. Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth, donated $500,000 for a campaign to convince Alabamans this was a good idea. The lottery referendum went on the ballot. The half-million didn't benefit Siegelman's gubernatorial campaign or him personally -- unlike, say, the billions being poured into the current presidential race via the super PACS and individuals like Sheldon Adelson.
The referendum lost. It was opposed with money pouring in from nearby Mississippi, where Indian casinos, represented by Jack Abramoff, were threatened by the idea of Alabamans spending gambling money at home, for education.
Siegelman's first indictment from federal prosecutors came in 2004. Already, in 2002, rumors of alleged "crimes" had circulated during Siegelman's campaign for re-election as governor. But he almost won anyway; he went to bed as the announced winner on election night. The next day, Bob Riley announced that he had won. A sudden redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County had reduced Governor Siegelman's totals by 3000, giving the win to Riley. No other Baldwin County results shifted during this odd event. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots.
The 2002 indictment was thrown out immediately. Federal Judge U.W. Clemon called the case "unfounded" and dismissed it with prejudice. In 2006, Don Siegelman sought to regain his stolen governorship -- and was indicted again. This time the prosecution was brought by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. Leura's husband Bill Canary was running Bob Riley's re-election campaign.
Federal Judge Mark Fuller didn't throw out the indictment, though it was brought after the 5-year statute of limitations had run out on the crime alleged. Fuller ignored this, and disallowed all evidence of political and legal corruption in the case, including witness and jury tampering. Siegelman was convicted. His appeals have run nearly six years and his prosecution has cost the taxpayers millions. It ended with the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case this summer and its decision to send the case back to Judge Fuller "without comment."
Judge Fuller ruled that ex-Governor Don Siegelman shall resume serving his remaining sentence -- five years -- and chose for Don to report to prison on September 11.
What did Mr. Scrushy "get" in return for donating to Siegelman's lottery campaign? Re-appointment to a state board for hospital oversight. It's a position that doesn't pay and Scrushy didn't want it. He'd served on the board for twelve years for three preceding governors. According to Governor Siegelman's intrepid daughter, Dana, her father implored Scrushy to re-join the board to make it bipartisan and attract more business to the state. Some bribe! Scrushy gives, and gets what he doesn't want in return, along with an indictment and prison, too. The stated reasons are these. But he also said yes to a popular, targeted Democrat.
Dana Siegelman has launched a presidential pardon petition for her father, who was taken in shackles from a courtroom ten years ago. Don Siegelman served nine months before release on appeal, moved among prisons in various states, making it difficult for family, friends and media to see him. He was recommended for solitary confinement, and put there often. When a warden in Louisiana finally asked, "What's with the recommendation for solitary?" Don replied, "I have no idea." And that warden put him in the general prison population.
The Soviet Union was a one-party state. In such states, enemies of the party become enemies of the state, and the state can punish with full weight of prosecution. Loyal opposition is allowed in such faux democracies as window-dressing. But if you're too good at opposition, you become disloyal to the state. As an enemy of the ruling party, you're guilty. And a state crime can be found to prove you so.
In El Salvador, when neighbors were disappeared, tortured or killed, people doubted their own knowledge of the victims, and worried there must have been some secret guilt involved to deserve such punishment! That's how political terror succeeds. It silences and makes us doubt one another. Americans must reverse this miscarriage of justice in Don's case, both as rectification and deterrent. The fact that so few have stood up against it is shocking, and bodes ill for our country. Don't let it stand.
Sign the petition and get more information at: www.donsiegelman.org