McDonnell v. United States

In this case, former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell challenged his conviction on bribery charges for accepting money and gifts from a dietary supplement promoter in return for various actions to favor his business interests. McDonnell argued, among other things, that the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions including Citizens United v. FEC bar an interpretation of the bribery laws that would cover his conduct because they hold that it is not “corruption” when politicians merely provide “access” and favoritism for their supporters. Public Citizen, together with Democracy 21, filed an amicus brief supporting the government when the case reached the Supreme Court. The brief explained that the Court’s campaign finance decisions were inapplicable because the case did not involve campaign contributions or other First Amendment-protected conduct, and even if it did, the Court’s decisions do not hold that quid pro quos in which officials provide favorable treatment in return for campaign contributions are constitutionally protected.

The Supreme Court ultimately held as a matter of construction of the relevant statute that McDonnell’s conduct did not involve “official acts” within the meaning of the applicable criminal laws. The Court did not reach the constitutional issues addressed in our brief.