This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal officials made one thing clear after former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday received two years in prison for public corruption.
“Public corruption is corrosive,” said U.S. Attorney Dana Boente.
“It undermines the public’s confidence in its public institutions,” Boente told reporters. “For that reason, these cases are important for us to prosecute to maintain that public confidence so they will understand that no one is above the law, not a high public official, not even the highest public official in the state. And that’s what this case was all about.”
Adam Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond field office, made it clear that, “no elected official, irrespective of their popularity or the power they wield, is above the law.”
Federal prosecutor Michael Dry said his team wanted to make it clear there is “only one system of justice in this country.”
McDonnell, convicted of 11 of 13 counts of public corruption last summer, will begin his 24-month sentence in federal prison Feb. 9. After that, he will spend two years on supervised release. His wife, Maureen, convicted on nine of 13 counts of corruption, will be sentenced Feb. 20.
Even though the former will spend about a decade less in jail than he might have, Richard Kelsey, dean of George Mason University’s law school who has followed the case closely, said that should still send a “very strong” message that will force politicians in Virginia and elsewhere to take their conduct very seriously.
“A lot of politicians out there are looking at their facts and saying, ‘Wow, that’s public corruption?’” Kelsey told Watchdog.org.
Kelsey said the U.S. attorney isn’t going to go after the “dog catcher of Saskatchewan” for impact.
“You shouldn’t pick and choose who you prosecute … but if you’re looking to send a message about politician corruption, prosecuting Bob McDonnell is going to send a much stronger message,” Kelsey said.
Virginia’s Republican Speaker of the House Bill Howell, who served as a character witness on the stand Tuesday, assured McDonnell’s lawyer, the judge and the public that the McDonnell case has “most certainly” served as a deterrent for Virginia’s lawmakers.
Still, the message Virginia lawmakers really took away remains to be seen.
While many are pushing for limiting the kinds of gifts lawmakers can receive, Kelsey has a different — and perhaps not as popular — idea, for deregulating things: let lawmakers receive any amount and number of gifts they want, so long as they’re disclosed. It’s what he calls more of a free-markets-based change to the system.
“I recognize that it’s a hard argument to make,” he said.
But then, things wouldn’t be so under-the-table, he suggested, and large gifts could be traced to see if they align with any official action.
“Then you can connect the dots far more effectively than you can now,” Kelsey said.
Republicans and Democrats alike in the Virginia General Assembly are pushing for stricter gift laws when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 14.