Sunday, November 02, 2014

Wy, Yes, Rich Republicans Should Spend as Much as They Can to Control Politics

Zephyr Treachout. Coruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2014.

King Louis XVI in 1785 gave Benjamin Franklin a snuff box worth five times more than gifts given to other diplomats. Some viewed the gift as a statement of friendship, while others saw it as a bribe. According to the Constitution, Congress has to approve acceptance of all such gifts.

Corruption debates led to the 17th Amendment for the direct election of Senator instead of Senators perhaps bribing or influencing state legislator to vote for them.

Corruption debates led to the 27th Amendment that Congress can not vote itself a pay raise and that Congressional salary increases could not be effective until the next Congressional session.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valco invalidated a law limiting campaign spending, The Court stated doing so limited First Amendment rights of free speech.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United struck down an individual and corporate spending limitations when influencing policies and elections. Justice Anthony Kennedy defined corruption as an exchange as a quid pro quo for something illegal. He saw speaking on issues as not being corrupt.

Treachout argues that considering only First Amendment rights on campaign spending is too narrow a focus. Candidates are often dependent on contributions from those with wealth. Our government is heading towards oligarchy.

The ban of gifts from foreign dignitaries in the Constitution did not include a clause for small tokens. As Teachout observes, “that fierce rejection of “of any kind what ever reveals a commitment to transform the political culture that persisted from the Revolutionary era  to the Constitutional era. It was a ban on a culture of gift giving.”

The founders of our nation feared people becoming members of Congress in order to get jobs. They did not foresee today’s practice of over half of former members of Congress becoming lobbyists.

A large size in the number of members of Congress was believed by Elbridge Gerry to lead to fewer possibilities for corruption as there were be more people whose actions would have to be coordinated. Alexander Hamilton believed who were shown as corruption would be defeated for reelection.

Patrick Henry in 1775 received 35 million acres of land near the Yazoo River from the Governor of Georgia. Public reaction arose against  this seeming gift to a politician. The Governor responded by insisting the land b paid for in gold or silver Henry could not make that paymet. Henry asked the Georgian legislature to sell the proposed land to his Combined Societies companies.

Each member of the Georgia legislature except one had a vested interest in the Combined Society. The first bid of $250,000 for the 35 million acres was vetoed by the Governor. A second bid of $500,000 passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor.

The public defeated the legislator who approved this deal. An anti-Yahoo legislature declared the land deal had been approved by fraud. Yazoo supporters defended the sale and argued those purchasing land should be assured their land purchases would not be taken away by legislative actions. In George, many leading anti-Yazooists owned slaves. Many prominent Northerners did not wish to help the slave owning anti-Yahooists. Anti-Yahooists were mostly Democrats-Republicans who believed a state legislature had the ability to invalidate a corrupt contract.

President Thomas Jefferson offered a compromise that Congress accepted. The Federal government bought the land at a portion of what local claimants desired to receive as payment.  Some anti-Yahooists thought this partially gave in to corruption. Some Yahooists were upset the full amounts were not paid. This created a split in the
Democratic-Republican Party.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Yahooists. The Court stated it could not consider the motivations of legislators and could not determine if their motives were corrupt.

The ruling made it harder to prevent public corruption. By courts ruling they should not introduce political activities in the legislative process, they stated they could not do not do anything about legislative corruption.

When the U.S formed, there was a law passed on bribes to judges, customs officers, and tax officers. There were no laws against bribes to other public offices such as Congress and legislators.

In 1818, U.S. Rep. Lewis Williams was charged with accepting a $500 bribe. There was a division of opinion between using “heavy handed” measures such as the British was done, versus those who saw a need to create integrity in office. The House found the person who made the allegations against Rep. Williams, John Anderson, guilty of contempt from his testimony before the Speaker. Anderson sued for false imprisonment, assault, and battery.  The U.S. Supreme Court in Anderson v. Dunn ruled that Congress had powers to create its own contempt measures but that imprisonment could not last past legislative adjournment. the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled Congress had no power to punish bribery that happened outside of legislative jurisdiction.

Several states created laws on bribery, extortion and voting buying (limited to getting a legislature to vote a certain way and not covering getting a legislator to help pass a law.)  These laws were seldom enforced then. There were different results in some cases as it was debated if a person claiming he had no “corrupt intent” could accept what otherwise looked like a bribe or extortion.

Most states made bribing legislators a crime after the 1820s.

Michigan State Rep. James Randall was determined in a Michigan Supreme Court decision to have shown no evidence of bribing other legislators by providing them with food and alcohol. Yet the Evening News newspaper could legally print articles that described these actions are corrupt.

Tammany Hall boss William Tweed was convicted of corruption as the court determined the Attorney General was allowed to make these charges even if they had rarely had similar charges before.

There were no criminal convictions of bribes in the 1797-1798 Galph Affair, no charges made against War Secretary Simon Cameron, or in the Credit Mobilier case in 1872, nor in the Grant Administration scandals. Some people resigned or left office and some continued in office.

Scandals emerged concerning bribing state legislators in electing U.S. Senators in Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Kansas, Arkansas, and Montana. No censures resultd although ten Senators resigned.

State Sen. Robert McFarland dramatically changed his vote to one he had stated he would never cast. Bribery was charged. There was debate on what causes a bill to be passed. The Court determined it did not have the ability to determine what a corrupt legislative action was.

In the he Illinois Central court case, the Court determined that it was up to the legislature to define what legislative corruption was and how it should be punished.

The role of lobbyists came under debate. Wisconsin in 1896 defined corrupt actions by  lobbyists as personal solicitation of influence. The law allowed lobbyists to engage in  providing testimony, arguments, facts, and petitions.

Vermont required lobbying work to go to a legislative committee or to the entire legislature and not just to one legislator\

California made it a felony for a lobbyist to use bribery, intimidation, promise of rewards, or other dishonest means to influence a legislator/

A Nebraska law found lobbying as “corrupt in nature and against public policy” although it did not clearly sate what those actions. It did seem to be against paying a legislator to act in a desired manner.

Massachusetts created a lobbying registration law. Wisconsin, Maryland, and then other states followed.

The 20th century had an increase in cases charging lobbyists with bribery.

State courts began convicting public officials for accepting a bribe even if they did not intend to let the bribe influence behavior.

In the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo, the Court found campaign contributions limits had validity but that limiting campaign expenditures did not.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1999 Sun Diamond case ruled that prosecutors had to establish that giving an official a gift was in anticipation of a particular act by that official.

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United was that the First Amendment protected the right of speech through campaign spending an that there was no constitutional goal to be accomplished by limiting campaign ads. One may spend unlimited money on campaigns except one can not make a direct offer for an official action and any campaign contribution limits must be followed.

The author argues our democracy needs to find a concept of corruption. If it is not addressed, it will exist. There are new power dynamics resulting from the Citizens United decision. New laws should be enacted to restrain these new power influences.


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