Political Hay

Beg Your Pardon?

The conspiracy theory about the conviction of a former Alabama governor is a doozy.

By 3.21.08

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If a Democrat is elected President of the United States, former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat, might be pardoned. There might even be pressure on a President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to appoint this former Alabama Attorney General as a federal judge or a U.S. Attorney. In 2005, jurors in Montgomery found Siegelman guilty on seven counts of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

This was related to HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy giving a Siegelman campaign $500,000 to win a seat on Alabama's Certificate of Need board. The board makes decisions about hospital expansion and equipment needs. When Scrushy was on the board, decisions often favored expansion and more expensive equipment at HealthSouth hospitals. Jurors also convicted Scrushy on all seven counts of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice.

Siegelman was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is held at a minimum security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana with other white-collar criminals including former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, former Worldcom CEO Bernard Ebbers, and former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow.

It would be an understatement to say Siegleman's conviction hurt him as a candidate. After conviction but before his prison term started, he sought another term as governor. His comeback attempt was crushed in the June 2006 Democratic primary by Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley. She won about 60 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Siegelman. In the general election, incumbent Republican Governor Bob Riley beat Baxley by a wide margin to win another term in 2006.

JOURNALISTS AND DEMOCRATIC activists have concocted an "inside job" theory about the Siegelman conviction. In this theory, Karl Rove personally intervened to make sure U.S. Attorney Leura Canary convicted Siegelman.

Canary is the wife of Republican Bill Canary, who is head of the Business Council of Alabama and close to Bob Riley. This theory combines everything the Democratic base hates: President George W. Bush, Rove, U.S. Attorneys and a Republican Governor who resembles Ronald Reagan both in appearance and governing style. They argue that Riley stole the 2002 election, when he toppled Siegelman by only 3,200 votes.

60 Minutes suggested Siegelman was railroaded to prevent a Siegelman-Riley rematch. In articles for Harper's, "Human rights" attorney Scott Horton threw in convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as somehow being part of the plot. Syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker has chimed in. Liberal bloggers call Siegelman a political prisoner. Of course, there are never calls to spring corporate executive Scrushy, who is thought to have bilked investors.

If there were an inside job, conviction of Siegelman might have waited until after the 2006 election. If the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that Scrushy paid Siegelman $500,000 for a seat on the Certificate of Need board and that both tried to hide it, the jurors would not have convicted both despite a spirited defense and public relations offensive.

Conviction of Siegelman by jurors does not matter to conspiracy theorists, however. They see shadowy plutocrats they dislike conspiring to throw the 2006 election to Riley despite Republican misfortunes in other states. And they hope shadowy plutocrats they like will conspire to free Siegelman.

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About the Author

Mark G. Michaelsen writes frequently about public affairs.