With all the focus on today’s DC Circuit recess appointment decision, it is easy to miss its other decision today in the Abramoff-related U.S. v Kevin Ring case. As BLT reports, it raises interesting questions about campaign contributions a bribes, the illegal gratuity statute, and the relationship of lobbying activity to the First Amendment. Here’s an interesting snippet from the opinion:
Testimony about Ring’s lawful campaign contributions gave jurors a window into the way in which lobbyists like Ring gain influence with public officials. One witness explained the role of campaign contributions in Abramoff’s lobbying practices with a particularly striking metaphor:
Q: Did you ever lobby with campaign contributions?
Q: How did you do that?
A: Campaign contributions are a little bit different than, for lack of a better term, things of value. I viewed campaign contributions as sort of the ante in a poker game. It’s the price of being involved in the game. We worked—we worked aggressively to raise money and we liked to do it.
Q: What do you mean by that, you viewed campaign contributions as the ante in a poker game?
A: Yeah, it’s a seat at the table. That’s all. That’s all it is.
Trial Tr. 10/28/10 PM 21:9–20. In other words, under the government’s theory of the case, campaign contributions gave the lobbyists access to public officials. Without such evidence, a jury might wonder why an official would sacrifice his integrity for a few Wizards tickets. Perhaps even more significantly, the contribution testimony amounted to strong modus operandi evidence that demonstrated Ring’s transactional relationship with officials and the manner in which he pursued his clients’ political aims. That Ring rewarded “good soldier[s]” with campaign contributions, for example, perhaps suggests that he put other things of value to similar use.