The Supreme Court today narrowed, but did not invalidate, the federal “honest services” law that has been used to prosecute many people charged with public or private corruption, including former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The essence of the Court’s holding is this:
Section 1346, which proscribes fraudulent deprivations of “the intangible right of honest services,” is properly confined to cover only bribery and kickback schemes.
If I recall correction, the essence of the case against DiMasi was a kickback scheme — he allegedly received cash in exchange for directing contracts to Cognos Corporation.
DiMasi’s lawyer, unsurprisingly, has characterized today’s decision as a big win for DiMasi:
DiMasi’s lawyer, Thomas Kiley, said he believes the Supreme Court ruling means the statute cannot be used in DiMasi’s case.
“It’s clear that the statute has been narrowed so that it does not apply to undisclosed conflicts of interest,” Kiley said. “The court has once again tried to put a brake on the government’s use of this statute to capture all manner and means of supposed inappropriate use of office.
“This is the decision we’ve been waiting for. The decision echoes the arguments that we’ve been making.”
Kiley is right that undisclosed conflicts of interest now cannot be prosecuted under the honest services law. And that may result in some of the charges against DiMasi being thrown out. But I don’t see how the central allegation of the case — that DiMasi received cash in exchange for steering contracts to Cognos — is adversely affected by today’s decision. Anyone with a better recollection of the details should feel free to correct me in the comments!