A few years after leaving office, Siegelman was brought to trial after giving former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy — a $500,000 contributor to a fund that supported Siegelman’s campaign for a lottery — a seat on a state hospital board. It has become one of the most hotly debated court cases of recent years, with Siegelman’s supporters pointing out that politicians often give appointments to political donors, and questioning the tactics of the prosecution. More than 100 former attorneys general signed a court brief requesting his release. But it wasn’t enough to convince the jury, or the appeals courts that heard the case afterward.
“The more leniency a president shows, the less controversial any pardon is likely to be,” Ruckman said, explaining that when the practice is perceived as normal for any given president, people tend to scrutinize it less. Otherwise, Ruckman said, “You have to explain why this one petitioner jumped to the front of the line.”
But past political clout means little when someone is seeking clemency, Ruckman said. It might even be a bad thing. Ruckman cited another jailed politician, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, now in prison on a corruption charge. He said Ryan first appealed directly to the president for a pardon, then filed a clemency petition arguing his innocence. Neither worked — probably because of the potential political fallout if a president bypassed the process to pardon a politician. It was a tough learning process for Ryan, Ruckman said. “If you try to get everything, you can wind up with nothing,” he said.