Monday, August 13, 2012

Campaign Contribution or Bribe?

This article by Robert Barnes in the Washington Post is well worth your time in a season when campaign finance will once again become an issue of contention.  I have long been disappointed that the Supreme Court is so willing to treat money in politics as if it were speech.  Some money is speech.  The rest is a bribe.  We would have a much better democracy if we could find a way to remove the latter without seriously compromising the former.

The focus of the article is a recent case in Alabama, which the Supreme Court chose not to hear.  The key piece of information is that judges in the lower courts are pleading for more clarity.

Federal law makes it a crime to corruptly solicit or accept money with the intent of being rewarded or influenced in official actions, and prosecutors have said campaign contributions can be part of such a scheme.

The Supreme Court’s guidance on the issue is thin. In 1991, it ruled that a campaign contribution could be a bribe if prosecutors proved a quid pro quo — that the contribution was “made in return for an explicit promise or undertaking by the official to perform or not to perform an official act.”

In a subsequent case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the quid pro quo need not be expressly stated. But lower courts have differed, since then, on exactly what standards apply.

Read the whole thing.

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