It’s a transaction that happens routinely in politics: the payment of money by a business owner to a public official with the expectation of some future favour.
But when is that payment an illegal bribe and when does it fall into the category of normal political influence peddling? A Dallas federal jury will soon decide the matter – at least in the case of local developer Ruel Hamilton, who is accused of bribing two former Dallas City Council members.
A jury was picked on Monday to hear the federal corruption trial in downtown Dallas. The government will begin presenting testimony and other evidence on Tuesday morning following opening statements. Prosecutors say Hamilton, 65, a longtime developer of affordable housing, made payments to Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway in exchange for their help on the council with his real estate properties.
The alleged $40,000 in bribes to Davis included “illegal campaign donations for the candidates of her choice,” prosecutors say. The idea was to help establish Davis as a political consultant after she left the council so she could lobby for Hamilton and others, prosecutors said. At the time of the alleged bribe, Davis was chair of the council’s Housing Committee. She pleaded guilty in March 2019. She died four months later in a car crash that also claimed her daughter.
The trial is the latest in a string of Dallas City Hall corruption cases to hit the federal courts over the years. It’s expected to last about three weeks. The case is notable because it targets a white businessman who is said to have paid the bribes. Previous federal corruption trials in Dallas have mainly involved local Black politicians, leading to accusations from community members of racial bias in prosecutorial decision making.
The government says the money Hamilton paid as part of an illegal quid pro quo; an agreement for specific official acts. But Hamilton has argued in court filings that he was legally giving campaign money to local politicians like any other donor.
“There is no denying the fact that many people mistakenly equate the exercise of perfectly legitimate First Amendment activities as corruption, including the sort of making of campaign contributions and cultivating friendships with elected officials that are at issue in this case,” said one of his attorneys, Abbe Lowell, in a trial brief.
The government also alleges that Hamilton paid Caraway $7,000 in 2018 for his future help with a proposed real estate development Hamilton wanted to build in Caraway’s district at 11th Street and Bonnie View Road in South Dallas.
The original article can be found at dallasnews.com