Kentucky Millionaire Spends Big Bucks to Defeat DA Who Investigated Sexual Abuse at His Shady Nursing Home

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a lot of ink (and no small number of pixels) has been devoted to what impact unlimited, anonymous special interest money may have on our political system.

But in the Kentucky Senate race pitting Democrat Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general, against Republican nominee Rand Paul, we’re getting a look at another potential -- and potentially disastrous -- effect of the ruling that’s received far less attention: a scenario where deep-pocketed corporate criminals take advantage of the new campaign finance landscape to undermine the American justice system.

As ABC News reported this week, “A local millionaire has helped launch a barrage of ads attacking the Democratic candidate – a candidate who, as the state’s attorney general, is prosecuting the businessman’s nursing home for allegedly covering up sexual abuse.”

The businessman is Terry Forcht, a “super-wealthy conservative donor” whose vast holdings include a chain of nursing homes that have been the subject of intense controversy in the Bluegrass State. Forcht has donated big bucks to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, a “super-PAC” that has invested heavily to defeat Conway. (As ABC notes, like other conservative donors who are “quietly stoking the GOP’s mid-term election surge around the nation, the extent of [Forcht’s] investment in the 2010 campaign is both vast and, for now at least, largely unknown.”)

According to ABC:

[Conway] has been leading an aggressive and very public prosecution of a Forcht-owned nursing home for allegedly covering up the scandalous sexual abuse of an elderly resident. The case was brought after the nursing home allegedly failed to report to authorities, or even tell the 88-year-old victim’s family, that she had been sexually abused by another resident.

State records reviewed by ABC News show that Forcht is both the chairman and the registered agent for the Hazard Nursing Home, where the alleged incident took place. As such, Forcht was to be summoned to appear in a Kentucky court last month, state officials said. Forcht’s company and its administrator have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The case has been big news in Kentucky, with the lurid details of the elderly woman’s abuse played out in state and local newspapers. Conway issued a press release upon bringing the charges, saying he wanted to make a public example of Forcht’s nursing home. The charges, he said in a press release, were intended to “send a message to nursing home operators and administrators that they have an obligation to notify authorities if a resident is abused while in their care.”

In jurisdictions all across the United States, judges, attorney generals and sheriffs are elected by the people. This race may be just a harbinger of more blatant attempts to subvert our criminal justice system to come.

If a rich drug cartel leader were to walk into the offices of any elected officer of our criminal justice system and offer him a million dollars to go easy on his operation, it would be a clear case of bribery -- a serious felony -- that the vast majority wouldn’t consider accepting. 

But thanks to the Supreme Court, the head of a business being investigated or prosecuted for a corporate crime could let it be known -- indirectly, and perhaps through intermediaries -- that if the same officer of the court were to go easy on his or her company, his next campaign for re-election -- or run at higher office -- would get a million dollars worth of ads. Or the reverse: a corporate criminal could let it be known that if an attorney general looks too hard into a firm’s operations, every opponent in every race he ever runs in the future will get a million dollars worth of outside spending for his campaigns. With the ability to donate anonymously, this would be easy to do, and hard to expose.

As attorney general, Jack Conway was trying to “send a message” to fly-by-night nursing home operators, and it appears that Terry Forcht is sending one right back. It’s a dangerous message, with the potential to be heard by other elected officers of our courts who may have political aspirations and are looking into other firms’ questionable business practices.

Alan Grayson painted the clearest picture of what the Citizens United decision looks like in the real world of Congress when he said (and I’m paraphrasing), "A lobbyist can now walk into my office and say, ‘I’ve got two million dollars to spend in the final weeks of this race. I can spend it for you, or for your opponent — the choice is yours.’ Now that’s real power."

It’s not hard to imagine a day when business owners don’t even need to send that message anymore, and it’s simply understood among elected officers of the court that going after a deep-pocketed criminal poses a grave risk to one’s political future.


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