A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the conviction of an associate to former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Kevin Ring was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2011 after being convicted of "honest-services fraud, paying an illegal gratuity, and conspiracy" for giving public officials meals, sports tickets and other gifts.
Ring appealed the conviction, saying the court should not have allowed his legal campaign contributions to be included as evidence in the case and that the court did not prove the gifts were quid pro quos for legislative or bureaucratic action.
Judge David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the ruling that the case "probes the boundary between legal lobbying and criminal conduct," while "exposing the dark underbelly of a profession that has long played an important role in American politics."
The appellate court upheld all counts against Ring, in part because the law “punishes the scheme, not its success,” the court wrote, recounting documented accounts of Ring's frequent boasting.
"Ring referred to officials with whom he had the closest ties and with whom his lobbying efforts were most successful as his 'champions.' As regular beneficiaries of Ring’s largesse, these 'champions' often took actions that were favorable to Ring’s clients," Tatel wrote.
Ring argued that the charges lacked merit because the government did not prove that officials agreed to perform favors as a result of receiving gifts, favors or campaign contributions. The court said it upheld the charges because of Ring’s intent.
In the charges associated with campaign contributions — which Ring argued might have been misconstrued by the court as being unlawful bribes — the court recalled testimony from one of the witnesses at Ring’s trial.
“I viewed campaign contributions as sort of the ante in a poker game. It’s the price of being involved in the game,” said the witness. “It’s a seat at the table. That’s all. That’s all it is.”
While the court agreed the testimony might have made the legal contributions appear nefarious, it maintained that the witness affirmed the view Ring had in regard to the power of campaign donations, gifts and money.
Ring was arrested in 2008 for allegedly "conspiring with Abramoff and others to corrupt congressional and executive-branch officials by providing things of value to several public officials to induce or reward those who took official actions benefiting Ring and his clients," the Justice Department wrote at the time.
Abramoff served three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of corruption, fraud conspiracy and tax evasion. Now out of prison, Abramoff has joined forces with liberal groups to push for campaign finance reforms.
Congress passed new ethics rules in the wake of the Abramoff scandal that tightened the restrictions on gift-giving by lobbyists.