Brody Mullins has a long piece in the Wall Street Journal on the significance of the Michael Scanlon plea. Scanlon’s lawyer says that the Justice Department inquiry, and Scanlon’s “cooperation,” will be much wider than the mentions of Abramoff and Ney in the indictment to which Scanlon pleaded guilty.
Update: The WSJ names three Representatives and one Senator as under investigation; the Washington Post says “at least half a dozen,” and reports that there are 35 to 40 investigators and prosecutors working on the case.
As if that weren’t enough good news for the day after Thanksgiving, the article goes on to suggest that the long history of tolerating quid-pro-quo campaign contributions may be nearing its end:
Mr. Scanlon’s guilty plea suggests that prosecutors may be setting a low threshold for bringing bribery charges. Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty to bribing Mr. Ney by contributing just $4,000 to his campaign account in 2000 and an additional $10,000 to a separate Republican campaign fund. Prosecutors told Mr. Scanlon that if he made the contributions in exchange for some action or public statement by Mr. Ney, the donations amounted to bribery. That argument put pressure on Mr. Scanlon to plead guilty.
Despite the surge in donor-financed campaign spending, the Justice Department, at least in the past 30 years, hasn’t charged a lobbyist with bribery based on political contributions. The Justice Department won’t discuss its tactics, but Washington lobbyists are watching closely. If it were to use a similar standard for other prosecutions, it might be easier for the Justice Department to bring cases against Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying partners.
A Justice Department argument that political contributions are akin to bribery if the lobbyist is looking for something in return would force a big change in the way lobbyists ply their trade.
And about time, I’d say. Offering a public official “any thing of value” in exchange for an official act is bribery. A campaign contribution is something of value. Ergo, a campaign contribution in return for a vote or a speech or the introduction of a bill is bribery, and both the bribor an the bribee ought to be handcuffed, booked, prosecuted, and imprisoned.
Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.
Footnote Yes, I know that neither “bribor” nor “bribee” is a word. But there’s no other single word for either role in a bribery scheme, and I claim we need such words.