by Bill Simon
On February 27, 2017, a Political Vine (alternatively referred to as “Vine” or “PV”) article was issued regarding the vigorous legislative promotion of casino gambling legislation by Senator Brandon Beach and others. PV compared the “campaign contributions” by out-of-state casino interests to be equivalent to the noun “bribes,” in which that definition was based on a common dictionary meaning rather than any kind of statutory definition of that term.
In response to the 2/27/2017 issuance of the Political Vine, Senator Brandon Beach had his attorney send me a cease and desist letter, and included a copy of the PV edition in question (See this PDF of that letter).
In this letter, Beach’s lawyer, Robert D. Cheeley of the Cheeley Law Group, LLC, asserts that “political contributions are legal in Georgia, and politicians are entitled to accept contributions, so by definition they are not bribes.”
For the record, Georgia’s statutory definition of what constitutes a campaign contribution is found in OCG 21-5-3(7) and while this excerpt I use here is an abridged version of the entire statute, I invite anyone to read the entire definition for themselves: “Contribution” means a gift, subscription, membership, loan, forgiveness of debt, advance or deposit of money or anything of value conveyed or transferred for the purpose of influencing [emphasis added] the nomination for election or election of any person for office…”
But, of course, no politician would ever take generous campaign contributions in direct exchange for political favors, would they?
After all, there is some kind of legal line, however thin it may be at times, between bribery and campaign contributions from interests seeking special interest legislation. Consider the case of Former Alabama Democrat Governor Don Siegelman and the several years in federal prison he has had to contemplate on that distinction: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-high-court-when-is-a-campaign-contribution-a-bribe/2012/08/12/68cdd94e-e2f9-11e1-a25e-15067bb31849_story.html (if that link does not pull-up the Washington Post article, this is a PDF version)
Similarly, New Jersey Democrat Senator Robert Menendez has that opportunity to contemplate the contributions/bribery nexus regarding earmarked contributions to a Democrat “Super PAC” by a medical provider who secured the assistance of Senator Menendez in lobbying then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to rule in his favor in an ongoing dispute over $8 million in Medicare overbillings. http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/07/09/dr-salomon-melgen-menendez-supporter-released-on-18-million-bond/. Menendez has a 68-page indictment against him.
There is concern in the Peach State as citizens contemplate the morally corrupting influence of Las Vegas-based casino operators seeking a beachhead in Georgia. While truth is a defense to any defamation suit, perhaps only the U.S. Department of Justice would have the resources and clout to prove in court a quid pro quo regarding campaign contributions in exchange for legislation favorable to the person or entity who contributed the money.
If forced to litigate over the Vine article in question, the Defendant’s legal team would assert Georgia’s “anti-SLAPP” statute, O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1. This particular statute declares, “The General Assembly of Georgia finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage participation by the citizens of Georgia in matters of public significance and public interest through the exercise of their constitutional rights of petition and freedom of speech. The General Assembly of Georgia further finds and declares that the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of petition and freedom of speech should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process.”
So, to be clear, if I am sued by Senator Beach, or any other legislators involved in promoting casino legislation after their receipt of campaign contributions from casino interests, the court will be asked to award full attorney fees and expenses of litigation, as provided in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1.
There are a couple of specific elements in Mr. Cheeley’s letter that need to be cleared-up before I address his demands:
(A) Regarding Cheeley’s assertion in his first paragraph that “Specifically, that website is www.securecampaigner.com(sic) doing business as Political Vine dot com, www.politicalvine.com.” that is a completely inaccurate statement/assertion/assumption on Cheeley’s part.
The Website of “www.secure.campaigner.com” is a domain solely under the control of my email management vendor (known as Campaigner.com), for which I pay a monthly fee to be able to manage the email list, as well as compose and email-out the publication whenever I write one.
That email vendor offers services to the entire world on its platform and is, I believe, based in Canada. I have zero ownership of that entity, nor do they have any ownership of my PV website.
So, “Campaigner dot com” is not doing any kind of business as “Political Vine dot com.”
With regards to the website called www.politicalvine.com, yes, that is under my sole control for its content.
(B) Cheeley then appears to make some kind of point that because I did not place an asterisk in the Subject Heading of the 2/27/2017 Vine email that I “notably” omitted the asterisk next to the word “Bribes” in the Subject Line titled “Rumors have it…Casino Bribes-UPDATE!…02-27-2017” as if to mean I intended something nefarious.
I deliberately omitted the use of the asterisk in the “Subject Line” of the email (no, it is not the “caption” as he referred to it in his letter) because IF asterisks and other similar symbols are present in an email’s subject line, the email servers taking-in those emails sometimes interpret those emails as potentially being spam emails, and they get rejected, and therefore not delivered to the intended recipients. Thus the reason why the asterisk was omitted on the word “Bribes” in that one instance, which, when compared to the “twenty times” in which the word appeared in print in that 2/27/2017 PV as “bribes*” this one instance is not significantly meaningful.
For the record, I believe I will/would prevail in court in defense of any lawsuit brought by Beach or anyone else. However, I know that lawsuits such as this type will take an extremely lengthy amount of time to have resolved, and I do not wish to have my mind or my life occupied by it for the next 3-5 years.
Therefore, with regard to the four specific “demands” placed on me by Beach’s lawyer:
Demand #1: Regarding Cheeley’s demand of removing “from any and all of your websites all defamatory and disparaging remarks regarding Senator Beach and ‘bribes’ made by you or any visitors to your site.”
The only thing that was ever placed on the PV website was the 11-Page PDF document that was assembled using campaign contribution disclosure data publicly accessible via the Georgia Government Transparency and Finance Commission’s Website (known as Ethics.Ga.Gov). That 11-page PDF document I compiled has been removed from the PoliticalVine.com website. No remarks of any kind were ever posted to the PV site.
Also, the original email that was composed and sent out via my account on Campaigner.com has been deleted off my account, and the online version (i.e., “server-based” version) can no longer be accessed.
Demand #2: I will cease and desist publication of that specific, and allegedly defamatory, remark about Senator Beach relating to his sponsorship of casino legislation after receipt of campaign contributions from casino interests.
Demand #3: I hereby retract any alleged implication of violation of the Georgia criminal statute on bribery by Senator Beach and the casino interests who have generously contributed to his campaign. However, the reference to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of “bribe” is what it is. A “bribe,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “1) money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust. 2) something that serves to induce or influence.”
Note that the 2nd definition provided by Merriam Webster for the word “bribe” is that it can be “something that serves to induce or influence [emphasis added].” Compare that definition to the statutory definition of what a campaign contribution is (provided near the beginning of this PV edition).
Demand #4: I will tender five dollars ($5) to the Cheeley Law Group, LLC, in full accord and satisfaction of the strenuously disputed demand for payment of attorney fees for Senator Brandon Beach.
Aut pax aut bellum.