On legalized bribery

With only Matt Yglesias in all of Blogistan supporting my plea to be cautious about giving the FBI more power over the politicians who make its budget, give it authority, and are supposed to oversee its operations, it would be churlish of me to take issue with him on a related question. But as the holder of the Guiness Book World Record in churlishness, I feel it incumbent on me to do so.

The apparent campaign by the the FBI and the prosecutors in the Public Integrity Section to prosecute bribery-by-campaign-contribution seems to me entirely justified. The law is clear: anyone who offers a public official any “thing of value” in return for an official act is guilty of bribery, as is any public official who accepts such an offer.

It’s probably impossible to raise the amount of money that campaigns now cost without quid-pro-quo fundraising. That’s a feature, not a bug, of sending people to jail for such fundraising. We need something else, and the voters’ intolerance for public financing may not be so robust as to survive the current set of scandals, if those scandals are taken through to trial and conviction. (If “Not one Dime” seems too radical, how about giving every registered voter a $25 voucher each year, to be donated to the party or candidate of his or her choice? Don’t conservatives love vouchers? Or remove all contribution limits but require contributions to be anonymized though the Treasury.)

The more we learn about how both the War in Iraq and the homeland security effort have been made hostage to crooked politics, the less sympathy I have for the argument that campaign-contribution bribes, or hiring-the-Congressman’s-son-as-a-lobbyist bribes, or giving-a-consulting-contract-to-the-Congressman’s-wife bribes, aren’t really, you know, bribes. I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

4 thoughts on “On legalized bribery”

  1. Absolutely.
    And let's not forget to count the fabled "access" as a "thing of value." Why should being able to see a Representative or a Senator have a price tag?

  2. Ooops, that's concurring on the raid, I don't have a clear position on the complex speech/money/corruption/access/votes issue.

  3. How about abolishing contributions, (To candidates, anyway.) and taking all the constitutionally dubious (At best!) limits off of the independent expenditures?

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