Supreme Court rejects bribery appeal from former Alabama governor

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday turned down former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s appeal challenging his bribery conviction, leaving in place rulings that say prosecutors and jurors can decide when a favor based on a campaign contribution amounts to a bribe.

The court’s action means Siegelman is likely to be sent back to prison to finish his term. In 2007, a judge in Alabama sentenced him to seven years behind bars, but he was released a year later to appeal his conviction.

He had won the support of more than 100 top state attorneys as well as prominent election law experts. They had urged the court to hear his case and to clarify the line between a legal campaign contribution and an illegal bribe.

In the past, the high court has said that the process of seeking campaign contributions is protected by the 1st Amendment. However, the law has also allowed officials to be prosecuted if they make an “explicit promise” to take action as a reward for a campaign contribution.

In Siegelman’s case, jurors agreed with the prosecutors that the then-Alabama governor had appointed a wealthy hospital executive to a state hospital board as a reward for his contributing $500,000 to a campaign fund that sought to win approval for a statewide education lottery. Siegelman supported the lottery proposal, but it was defeated by the voters.

Siegelman’s lawyers argued that the prosecution for bribery was tainted because none of the campaign money enriched the governor.

Richard Scrushy, the founder and chief executive of HealthSouth, had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to several Republican governors who had in turn appointed him to the hospital board. When Siegelman, a Democrat, was elected governor, aides to the two men met and reportedly agreed that the new governor expected similar support from Scrushy.

A week after Scrushy wrote a $250,000 check to support the lottery campaign, Siegelman reappointed him to the hospital board.

The U.S. attorney in Montgomery, Ala., charged Scrushy and Siegelman with bribery. They were convicted in 2007.