Coin-operated politics

No, the Turkish government isn’t buying votes on Capitol Hill; that would be illegal. It’s just hiring lobbyists, and the lobbyists are buying the votes. All perfectly legal. Feh.

It’s a crime for a foreign individual or corporation &#8212 let alone a foreign government &#8212 to make contributions to American political campaigns. But it’s perfectly legal for a foreign government to hire ex-Congressfolk as lobbyists, and for the lobbyists then to contribute some to their former colleagues’ campaigns. Is it “the same” money? Meaningless question: money is fungible.

Not passing the Armenian genocide resolution isn’t a terrible outcome: yes, the resolution expresses a truth that the Turkish government continues to deny, and the last time I checked defending truth against falsehood was a good thing to do, but this is hardly the optimal moment to further annoy the Turkish government and military. But allowing lobbyists to act as conduits for the passage of foreign money &#8212 and especially foreign sovereign money &#8212 into American campaigns seems like a terrible idea.

And yes, it’s fixable, even accepting the insane notion that money is somehow “speech.” Under the existing precedents, there’s no way to forbid the lobbyists from offering bribes campaign contributions to candidates or PACs. But since each House has the Constitutional authority to make its own rules, nothing would bar the House or the Senate from making it against the rules for any sitting member to accept contributions from any registered lobbyist for a foreign government or other foreign entity, from any employee or partner of a firm any of whose members is so registered, or from any PAC that accepts contributions from such people.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: