How Political Bribery Works, and Why It’s Legal.


Why political bribery is legal is much easier to understand than how it works.

The short of it is that state legislatures and the US Congress write the laws. They have made it illegal to bribe government officials so long as those government officials are not elected. Elected government officials cannot be bribed if the money is paid to them as campaign contributions. It is a loophole through which lobbyists and special interests could drive big rigs loaded with bales of cash.

The problem has become all the worse with the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision which held that corporations are persons entitled to use money in exercise of free speech and removed the limits on campaign donations.

Note: Many progressives are pushing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen’s United decision, an absurd waste of time and energy, as even if successful, the result would be merely that we return to levels of bribery extant in 2010. Only adopting public financing of campaigns and banning private funding of candidates will eliminate corporate control of legislation and government.

Political bribery is much more nuanced than lobbyists delivering bags of cash for traded votes. Most candidates go hat in hand seeking campaign donations from interests they purport to agree with, and are pretty much under those donors’ thumbs from then on. Many elected officials will weigh the possibility of donors supporting primary or general election challengers should they waiver in obedience to them.

Most pernicious is the rationalizing of their votes and positions to comport with the positions of those with generous checkbooks.

The compounded effect of campaign bribes is the predictable and inexorable shift in loyalties by those in office from the constituencies who elect them to the constituencies who fund them.

The political rationale for this obvious flaw in the system is parroted by almost everyone on the take, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative alike. The defense is “name one instance where I changed my vote due to a campaign contribution.” The reason that votes were not changed is that they were bought-and-paid-for before they took office, and they have been towing the line for their masters ever since.



Author’s Notes:

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3 thoughts on “How Political Bribery Works, and Why It’s Legal.

  1. “If only they vote and organize, ordinary Americans can reclaim American democracy and challenge the politicians who still echo the view of old Vanderbilt that the public should be damned.” So we’ve been told.

    However, a recent study by two political science professors, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” revealed that the average voter has zero or near zero influence on public policy. It is the wealthy elites and business interests who almost always win. It is they who also make the campaign contributions and hire the expensive lobbyists. The history of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is an example.

    The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is the response to those organizations and groups that fought back against animal abuse. Some of the primary activists were the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) and SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty). Among organizations targeted were research facilities, fur farms, and logging companies. All of the activist groups avoided any injury to animals or people but some did engage in property destruction. They also saved the animal victims by removing them from laboratories and farms. Basically, the AETA was passed to prohibit people from any conduct that damages property or that interferes with the operation of an animal enterprise. Some interpret that act in ways that would even inhibit free speech and its expression in nonviolent protests.

    One of the most egregious aspects of the AETA was the legislative process itself, described by Dara Lovitz in “Muzzling a Movement.” Diane Feinstein was one of the cosponsors of the bill. Her involvement was unusual in that she had shown no political opposition to the animal movement before, and her primary campaign contributions came from the entertainment industry, women’s organizations, and senior citizens communities. However, there was a special interest driving her work on the AETA–her husband, Richard Blum. Since 1993 Mr. Blum has been chairman of the board of the CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) Group, a real estate organization that caters to the research/vivisection industry. CBRE claims to provide the best services and profitability to biotechnology, medical device, pharmaceutical, and related organizations. It (the CBRE) includes American Pharmaceutical Partners, Astra Zeneca, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Chiron, DuPont, Eli Lilly and Company, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Schering Plough, and Wyeth. Thus Mr. Blum, understandingly, would not be a noninterested party when animal rights activists targeted those companies and exposed their cruelties. His business interests provided a reason for Diane Feinstein’s cosponsorship of the AETA.

    Feinstein’s cosponsor of the AETA was Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee. Senator Inhofe has called global warming the “greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.” Not surprisingly, he has no sympathy for the ELF or other environmental groups that fight for reduced carbon emissions and less pollution and destruction of the environment. Inhofe also happens to own approximately $250,000 in energy-sector businesses, and oil and gas companies have made $1,223,723 in campaign contributions. In 2008 he was honored by the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association for “voting consistently in the 110th Congress to protect the oil and gas industry.” Inhofe also received $65,000 from the Nuclear Energy Institute, apparently hoping for his support for a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, and in 2004 he was named legislator of the year by the National Association of Chemical Distributors. Considering his denial of climate change and his support from some of the main producers of carbon emissions and toxic waste, his cosponsorship of a law criminalizing protectors of the environment is understandable.

    The passage of the AETA reveals special interests influence and legislative maneuvering in the House, as covered by Will Potter in “Green is the New Red.” Representative James Sensenbrenner cosponsored the AETA. Sensenbrenner’s second largest campaign contributor was the American Veterinary Medical Association, which is also a member of the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition. Sensenbrenner also received checks from GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth pharmaceutical companies. Big Pharma also gave him $41,000 and Big Ag gave him $20,000.

    Cosigner in the House, Representative Thomas Petri, has a similar history of donations and support. As Will Potter notes, “The industries protected by this law are some of the most powerful and generous political operations in Washington.” In 2006 PACs from Big Ag gave $20 million to members of Congress, and Big Pharma gave $11.5 million. Unfortunately, the animal protection and environmental organizations do not have the wealth to compete: The Humane Society of the United States gave $123,000, the Farm Animal Reform Movement gave $40,000, and all environmental organizations combined gave $514,000.

    Months before the actual vote, supporters of the AETA had been telling Congress that unless the law was passed the animal rights terrorists would continue to attack. An example is an ad by the National Associates of Biomedical Research (NABR). The ad was a full page in the Roll Call, a paper which covers the news of Capitol Hill and is read daily by members of the House and the Senate. The ad displays a photograph of a vandalized office with a spray-painted threat: “Your home is next.” The text at the bottom shouts SUPPORT THE ANIMAL ENTERPRISE TERROROISM ACT.

    The NABR also coordinated lobbying by corporations and trade associations under an umbrella organization, the Animal Enterprise Protective Coalition. Members included Big Pharma’s Pfizer, Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline, as well as Big Ag’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the Fur Commission that represented fur farmers whose animals had been liberated by the ALF. All stressed the threat of animal extremists/terrorists.

    When the actual vote came up in the Senate, it was the last congressional day before recess. There was no discussion or debate, with the AETA passing with “unanimous consent.”

    When the law was reached the floor of the House, there were 6 lawmakers present and no roll call vote was requested. It was passed under a procedure known as “suspension of the rules” and sent to the White House.

    The history of the AETA is another lesson in frustration for animal rights activists. For years we passed out leaflets and marched peacefully with signs. We didn’t get very far. We teamed up with animal rights and humane organizations and petitioned legislators to get protective laws passed. We got laws that contained loopholes and were not enforced. When activists became more aggressive, damaging property, freeing victims, and disseminating information on the torture animals were undergoing in research labs, factory farms, and circuses, the offending organizations took notice. They felt a threat to their work and their profits, and they funded lawmakers to brand activists as radicals, extremists, and terrorists. The AETA was the result.

    So while animal rights activists are still determined to help the powerless victims of human abuse, they are left wondering how to combat the wealth and power of the corporate world and the political thralls that serve it.

    Lovitz, Dara. Muzzling a Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, & Politics on Animal Activism (Lantern Books, 2010)
    Potter, Will. Green is the New Red (City Light Books, 2011)

    Liked by 1 person

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