Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson pleaded guilty on Tuesday to accepting bribes from marijuana businesses in his position as Chair of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, with power over which businesses got in first.
He faces up to ten years in prison.
Rick Johnson was the Chairperson of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board (MMLB) between May 2017 and April 2019. In this position, he set himself up to accept cash payments from lobbyists (another scourge on our democracy with their huge corporate funds far outreaching the impact of citizens, who are supposed to be the “represented”).
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Johnson, a man of tremendous power in Michigan having served as Republican Speaker of the House for several years, pleaded guilty to taking $110,000 in bribes over a two year period.
The government charging release explained the scheme, “Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown were lobbyists doing business as Philip Alan Brown Consulting, LLC and Michigan Grower’s Consultants, LLC, who lobbied on behalf of businesses and individuals who were seeking operating licenses from the MMLB. Johnson provided valuable non-public information about the anticipated rules and operation of the MMLB and assistance with license application matters to Dalaly, Pierce, Brown, and others that paid money to Johnson while he was Chairperson of the MMLB. The cash payments were made to three business entities, which Johnson used to accept payments from the companies, Philip Alan Brown Consulting, LLC, and Michigan Grower’s Consultants, LLC, to help hide those payments to Johnson while he was Chairperson of the MMLB. Between July 2018 and April 2019, Johnson voted in favor of approving the prequalification status of one of Dalaly’s companies and a company that was represented by Pierce and Brown and voted in favor of granting medical marijuana licenses to those companies.”
While this might just seem like part of a spate of crimes regularly committed by politicians being brought to light, it is also telling the broader story of the heightening corruption of our political process.
This particular ongoing corruption investigation is wide-ranging and centered on the huge amounts of money at play to impact policy decisions and the power of lobbyists behind the scenes.
At the time of charging, U.S. Attorney Mark Totten made exactly this point, “Public corruption is a poison to any democracy. Those who wield the power of state have a sacred obligation to serve the people they represent. But when a government official takes a bribe, they spurn that solemn duty – in favor of the connected, the crooked, and ultimately themselves.”
Political corruption has always been around, but in the post-Trump era, it’s taken hold of an entire political party. The Republican Party is currently led by a criminal defendant, and their motto seems to be “f law enforcement unless we can weaponize it against opponents.”
The law, of course, is supposed to be applied to all without fear or favor. This has never been the case, but it is the ideal and less than that is a cause for objection.
This month in particular, it’s seemed as if one dark secret after another is being brought to justice in some form. We can only hope this results in a cleaning out of government and a restoration of the goals of morals and ethics instead of celebrating criminality and thuggery in our political leaders.
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