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December 19, 2011

Media coverage of GOP contenders' clemency records

ProPublica has this notable new piece in its padron reporting series headlined "Perry More Generous With Pardons Than Romney."  Here are excerpts:

As governor of Texas, Rick Perry ... has turned away the majority of applicants recommended for a pardon by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.     Still, Perry’s record of clemency is more generous than Mitt Romney’s.  As governor of Massachusetts, Romney refused to grant a single pardon....

Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, so Romney never faced that ultimate decision. But among the pardon applicants Romney denied was a decorated veteran of the Iraq War whose only offense — at age 13 — was shooting another child with a BB gun. (According to news reports, the shot didn’t break the skin.)

The veteran, Anthony Circosta, had been awarded a Bronze Star and wanted a pardon so he could become a policeman. Romney denied Circosta’s pardon application twice, according to an Associated Press article.

The contrast between Romney and Perry stood out in a ProPublica review of past clemency actions by Republican presidential contenders....  The president’s power to pardon someone’s crime or to commute his or her sentence is absolute.  But states handle clemency in a variety of ways.  Some, like Perry’s Texas, temper a governor’s authority by requiring recommendations from an outside review board.  In others, like Jon Huntsman’s Utah, clemency decisions are issued by a board and not the governor....

Romney, who served as Massachusetts governor from 2003-07, has proudly advertised his record of granting no pardons at all, saying he did not want to overturn the decision of a jury.  Romney received requests for 172 pardons and 100 commutations.  The state’s Advisory Board of Pardons recommended that he approve more than a dozen, according to the Associated Press....

Texas records show that Perry has routinely pardoned a handful of applicants every year — typically older people who had long ago committed minor offenses.  In 2010, Perry pardoned nine people.  One pardon was posthumous: Tim Cole had died in prison after being wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and raping a fellow Texas Tech University student....

Some critics have called Perry “stingy” with pardons.  An analysis last year by The Texas Tribune found that Perry had granted pardons to only about 30 percent of those who had been recommended by the pardons board.  But Perry has been less tight-fisted than his predecessor.  According to The Tribune, Perry has pardoned 178 people in his nearly 11 years in office.  In his six years as governor, George W. Bush pardoned only 21....

The records of other Republican primary candidates offer less of a barometer on pardons. Because an independent board grants pardons in Utah, Huntsman never issued one.  He did appoint Clark Harms, the current chairman of the state’s Board of Pardons and Parole, a former prosecutor who told ProPublica, “If someone made a mistake and has done everything they can to ameliorate and has lived a law-abiding life, people ought to be forgiven.”

As members of Congress, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum had no power to grant pardons but did have the ability to write letters in support.  

Our pardons investigation found that Rep. Bachmann, R-Minn., had written an enthusiastic letter in support of granting a pardon to one of her campaign donors, Frank Vennes Jr. He and his family had given more than $26,000 to Bachmann and her political action committee....

Less than a year after she wrote the letter, FBI agents raided Vennes’ home to look for evidence that he and an associate had been participating in a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Vennes was charged with money laundering and multiple counts of fraud. Bachmann wrote another letter to the pardons office rescinding her support.

Rep. Paul, R-Texas, wrote a letter in support of Dr. Jeffrey Rutgard, a California eye doctor convicted of defrauding Medicare. “He fully served his sentence long ago and has devoted his life to charitably helping others ever since,” Paul wrote, calling Rutgard “one of the most compelling candidates for a presidential pardon I have ever seen.”

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, passed along information about two constituents seeking pardons: Richard A. Winner and Michael S. Pecora.

Our records request for pardons correspondence from members of Congress covered letters from 2001 to this year, a period long after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s years in office.

I am not especially optimistic that whomever wins the 2012 Presidential election will chart a bold new path with respect to the use of the historic constitutional power of clemency.  But I am at least hopeful that at least some media will continue to badger the resident of the Oval Office concerning the use and misuse of this power.

Meanwhile, Scott Henson over at Grits has this new post, titled "Pardons push positive Perry press: More this week?," speculating that Gov. Perry might seek to garner some more good press by issuing some holiday pardons in the days ahead.  Indeed, with the Iowa evangelical vote still up for grabs in Iowa, Perry might try to make hay by finding a few very appealing stories of redemption to spin around a few high-profile clemency grants.  I am not counting on such a development, but I sure like the notion that for once a politician might start granting, rather than consistently deny, clemency requests in an effort to curry political praise.

December 19, 2011 at 08:43 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Perhaps this is on the periphery,
but at least in Texas, with a realistic prospect of the Death Penalty,
a murderer is motivated to admit his guilt and the state better able
to convict and suitably sentence him.

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 19, 2011 10:25:01 AM

Count North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue as one of the anti-pardon Governors. Mitt Romney should be ashamed of not pardoning a decorated soldier considering the time and circumstances. Mitt will not receive this North Carolina vote.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 19, 2011 1:15:27 PM

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