Over the last few presidencies, the incentive to try to go around the normal clemency process–going directly to the White House and avoiding the Justice Department–has increased, said P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who specializes in clemency. A huge backlog at the Justice Department's pardon review office combined with the relatively small number of clemency grants by recent presidents, he said, “encourages people to try to end-run the process – to try to cheat, for lack of a better word, to gain access to the White House directly.”
Although the Bush administration says that clemency-seekers should go through Justice Department review, a White House spokesman said anyone was free to send a petition directly to the White House, which “at a minimum requires the cost of a stamp.” Ruckman said that people without connections could not walk into the White House, and that under ordinary circumstances, any letter would be forwarded to the Justice Department, where about half a dozen lawyers had 2,172 pending cases as of Dec. 4. Karen Orehowsky, a volunteer clemency consultant, said ordinary people going through the Justice Department have virtually no chance. “It takes a 'Hail Mary' from people who have a lot of connections and who are willing to put their neck out for people they care about, and it's unfair to people who don't have those connections,” she said.