Another guilty plea in Abramoff case

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Roll Call’s Jennifer Yachnin reports:

Former Senate aide Ann Copland pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, acknowledging she accepted more than $25,000 in gifts including tickets to sporting events and concerts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates.

Copland, a longtime aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who left in 2008 to join Mississippi Public Broadcasting, has agreed to cooperate with Justice Department attorneys in their long-running investigation into lobbying activities on Capitol Hill. Copland is among the 18 individuals, including the incarcerated Abramoff, to be charged with wrongdoing in the case since 2005.

Appearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Copland’s voice wavered at times during the hourlong hearing, in which she admitted to exchanging official activities ” including designating appropriations earmarks ” for tickets to events including baseball and football games, ice skating competitions and concerts such as Green Day, ‘N Sync and Paul McCartney. Many of those events included tickets in private suites.

It’s worth noting that under our system, $25,000 or $250,000 or even $2.5 million in campaign contributions are treated much differently than $25,000 in concert tickets. From the DoJ criminal resource manual:

A bribery charge can be premised on a campaign contribution. But be careful. It is problematical that a gratuity charge under 201(c) can rest on a bona fide campaign contribution, unless the contribution was a ruse that masqueraded for a gift to the personal benefit of the public officer as was the case in Brewster, supra. This is because campaign contributions represent a necessary feature of the American political process, they normally inure to the benefit of a campaign committee rather than directly to the personal benefit of a public officer, and they are almost always given and received with a generalized expectation of currying favor with the candidate benefitting therefrom. For these reasons, recent Federal jurisprudence on the subject suggests substantial judicial reluctance to extend the Federal crime of gratuities under section 201(c) to bona fide campaign donations.

(Emphasis added.)