Curbing legalized bribery

If you can’t tell a legal contribution from a bribe, then maybe the problem is what’s legal.

The criminal cases are all-important in making corruption a political issue. But a genuine anti-corruption campaign needs to look beyond what’s currently illegal.

Ponder, if you will, this comment from Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, as reported by Bloomberg:

“It is not going to be easy for the government to nail members of Congress,” said Salzburg. “It is very difficult to decide where the lines are between ordinary campaign contributions that get you access” and illegal gratuities and bribes.

If it’s hard to tell a campaign contribution from a bribe, then maybe we need new rules on campaign contributions. If we can’t regulate money on the giving end due to the Supreme Court’s bizarre “money is speech” decisions, then perhaps we need to regulate it on the receiving end. Why shouldn’t the House and the Senate, in their authority to make their own rules, forbid their members from accepting campaign contributions from any registered lobbyist or any lawyer whose practice involves legislative representation?

Update A reader points out that much of the current political money flow is better thought of as extortion rather than bribery. Perhaps one of the new rules ought to forbid any Member of Congress to solicit, directly or indirectly, contributions to anything from anyone, other than via public appeals for contributions.

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: