BOBBY HARRISON:Prosecutors should move forward or say it's over

The current set of guilty pleas in federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi by Georgia executives with the The Facility Group is a head scratcher.

As I understand it, the executives' guilty pleas are for giving campaign contributions to then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove because they thought it might help them curry favor with him later.

Well, with all due respect to the prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice, they had better get off their hindquarters and get busy. Under that definition, they can prosecute just about every politician and campaign donor in the country.

For instance, the Mississippi Association of Educators routinely interviews candidates for state offices. Among the questions is: Will the candidates support a pay raise for teachers? MAE is made up of teachers.

Following those interviews, MAE normally endorses candidates and, yes, makes a campaign contribution, albeit a modest one. And rest assured, every candidate MAE endorses is for a teacher pay raise.

What is different there from what The Facility Group
did?

Here is another example.

In 1999, Musgrove had the support of many bankers when he ran for governor. During his term as governor, Musgrove vetoed legislation that would have given small loan companies owned by banks immunity from lawsuits for loans that critics said took advantage of the poor by charging them for features they would never need.

Many bankers throughout the state were furious. They threw their support – and campaign contributions – to Haley Barbour. As governor, Barbour steered to passage legislation to provide relief to the bankers.

We could go on and on – people who gave money and were appointed to vacant judgeships or sought-after state boards and commissions. The list goes on and on from both parties.

Mississippi Beef Processors, which The Facility Group was hired to oversee, was a terrible mistake on a number of levels.

Any corruption – public or otherwise – should be ferreted out and those efforts should be applauded.
Mississippi Beef Processors, which had millions of dollars in state support, went belly up in 2004. In the years after it closed, the blame for the failure was placed on a number of politicians, including House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Ag Commissioner Lester Spell, to name a few.

Blame was not placed on Musgrove. Musgrove currently is the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in a race where many believe he has a legitimate chance of winning.

The political cronyism at the Department of Justice under the Bush administration has been well documented. Even the current U.S. attorney general concedes it has taken place.

A federal appeals court was so concerned about claims that the prosecution and conviction of former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama was political in nature that it released him from prison while the issue is being explored.

Make no mistake about it – any public official who took a bribe or profited illegally from Mississippi Beef Processors should be prosecuted.

But by the same token, federal prosecutors have an obligation not to use their office to try to influence an election.

In other states, fired U.S. attorneys have said that is exactly what they were asked to do.

Federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Mississippi should want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. If they have a case against a public official – particularly Musgrove, who is in the middle of a heated campaign – they should proceed with due haste. If they don't, they should admit it.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol bureau. Contact him at
bobby.harrison@djournal.com, or call (601) 353-3119.