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Alabama: is it a bribe or a contribution?

The Birmingham News reports: Minutes after a jury convicted him on bribery charges, former Gov. Don Siegelman was outside the federal courthouse saying that, if he was guilty of a crime, so were most of Alabama's politicians.

"If I'm in trouble for this, every public official who has ever taken money and appointed that person to a board, agency or commission is up the creek without a paddle," Siegelman said.

It's obvious that people give money to politicians thinking their interests will be served and that board appointments, votes on legislation and other favorable actions might follow.

But prosecutors in the corruption case said the difference is when a deal is struck - when the politician agrees to do a certain thing for a certain amount of cash. That crosses the line into bribery and selling your public office.

That was the assessment of Louis Franklin, the lead prosecutor in the case.

"It's not a run-of-the mill, `This guy gave me a decent contribution so I'll give him a spot in my Cabinet.' This was a specific agreement," Franklin said. ...

One politician predicted the Siegelman verdict will cause politicians to choose their words more carefully when talking to contributors - at least until they forget about the case.

"I learned a long time ago from the feds that you never talk about money and legislation in the same conversation. You don't want to give the perception you are selling your vote," said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham. -- A contribution vs. a bribe

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