The trip from statehouse to big house

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, September 9, 2014 4:04pm
  • Opinion

Faithful readers (both of you) possibly will remember back to what I wrote just a few weeks ago. Well, maybe not, but it was a snarky take on the ongoing corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his first lady while he was in office, wife Maureen. Instead of taking the easy way out and copping a plea, the two went to trial. To convince a jury they were guilty of no crime in taking $177,000 in goodies from one businessman in exchange for favorable treatment, they put on the most bizarre defense: Their marriage was too broken for them to participate in any scheme together. Day after day, we were treated to gory details of their terrible relationship and how the missus was a “nutbag.” It was a laugh a minute.

Only now it’s no longer funny; it’s pathetic. It didn’t work. Both were found guilty of most of the charges. They could spend years in jail. We’ll find out how many when they’re sentenced in January. Of course, there will be appeals, but what’s really sad is that none of this was necessary.

Not only could they have taken a deal from prosecutors, which would have resulted in minimal or no jail time (and just for him) while avoiding all the humiliating disclosure of their matrimonial wreckage, but they also could have taken care of their financial problems the old-fashioned way — by simply waiting till the end of his term and going through that revolving door to riches and a cushy, high-paying job with one of the companies whose cause the governor championed while still in office.

The way it usually works is that all he gets when he’s still a major elected domo is a sly wink from the lobbyists. There’s nothing as tacky as financial largesse and expensive vacations or bribes while in office from some smarmy operator, in this case a guy who was peddling a questionable medical supplement. In the old days, he would have been a snake-oil salesman. But in modern times, part of the reason for going through all the political gyrations is the expectation of a pot of gold at the end of your tenure.

In McDonnell’s own state of Virginia, for instance, we witnessed the journey of Eric Cantor. Cantor put in his time, rising to House majority leader, until he lost his district’s Republican primary in a huge upset. Now it’s announced that Cantor, who was regarded as a big supporter of Wall Street while in Congress, will be taking a top executive position at … wait for it … an investment bank, with an annual salary of nearly $3.5 million.

Let’s rush to say that there’s nothing illegal about the Cantor transition. There had better not be; it’s the payoff that one can expect when one switches from the public trough to the private one, a normal, albeit smarmy, career move. It may seem corrupt to those of us lesser chumps, but it’s routine. Another way it’s done is that after a brief wait, members of Congress and high administration officials take seven-figure jobs as lobbyists or advisers, talking client trash with their ex-colleagues in the Capitol, White House or cabinet departments.

The commonwealth of Virginia is crawling with corporate sugar daddies. Clearly, the McDonnells could have achieved the lifestyle they were pining for by digging in, paying the minimum on their maxed-out credit cards, wearing the same old clothes and then following the yellow brick road. Had they just turned down the chintzy graft, they would be living large now, either together or, if one believes the court testimony, happily and prosperously divorced.

Instead, their separate households could very well be different penitentiaries, each of them imprisoned by petty greed and impatience.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Supporting better outcomes in education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Managing Cook Inlet basin for the benefit of all

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Time is growing short

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sarah Vance (Photo provided)
Point of View: A moment of agony for Sarah Vance, and for Homer

The emotions driving Sarah Vance to the brink of tears during her agonizing silence in front of the Legislature suggested a battle of ideas

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Millions needed for Alaska’s child care sector

Without public investment, Alaska will continue to witness an inadequate and diminishing supply of child care services

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Time to disrupt our legislative process

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Finding common ground on education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Taking action for workers, supporting kids

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read