Three out of four Americans think government corruption is widespread. Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president in part by claiming he couldn’t be bought. Bernie Sanders almost grabbed the Democratic nomination away from one of the most famous and powerful people on earth by decrying the influence of big money.
Yet by overturning the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, the Supreme Court this week just extended its incredible run of decisions driven by the concern that America has too many restrictions on money in politics.
Back in 2010, the majority held in Citizens United that corruption should be defined only as straightforward bribes. Do big donors to “independent” Super PACs get a receipt saying “Received: $5 Million in Return for Cutting Your Taxes”? No? Then according to the decision, the donation did “not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” and that’s all that matters.
Now in the unanimous McDonnell decision, the Court held that a lower court’s interpretation of quid pro quo defined the quo too broadly, because for McDonnell to run interference for his generous donors with state officials didn’t actually qualify as an “official decision.”
In other words, the Court first decided in 2010 that only out-and-out bribes matter, and now it has decided that only a carefully defined subset of bribes qualify.