The typical person on the street thinks many big campaign
contributions are nothing more than legalized bribery. People see
that the system allows, and even encourages, large contributions
from interests seeking favors from government. They recognize
that many contributions are made with the hope or expectation
that they will lead to more favorable treatment.
As troubling as our campaign finance system is, one would hope
there are some limits to what contributors can get away with.
Presumably donors could not offer money tied to a specific
request (a quid pro quo). In fact, it is a felony in Minnesota to
offer any benefit to a public officer with intent thereby to
influence the person's performance of their powers or duties. But
our campaign finance system has sunk so low that one might cross
even that line with impunity.
Recently, one Minnesota businessman, who describes himself as
"one of the largest contributors to the House (Republican)
caucus," informed caucus members that he wanted the Speaker
to step down or the caucus to "vote him out." The donor
said he "will not contribute another cent," unless his
request is honored, but he offered to help them get money if it
He wasn't shy about spelling out how much money is at stake:
"Last (election) cycle, I estimate that the Freedom Club and
its members contributed somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000
to individual House candidates, the House caucus and independent
expenditures. If (the Speaker) resigns, we have a chance to get
some of that money back in the game. If he doesn't, most of it is
"Get some of that money back in the game"? Offer a
benefit to public officials with intent to influence them? This
sounds like what our bribery law is supposed to prohibit.
I asked the county attorney to investigate, but was informed
that based on the facts provided, they did not believe they could
prove that any crime was committed, and that their office does
not have the capacity to investigate such matters. The prosecutor
casually mentioned that if this case were pursued they would be
overwhelmed with complaints about numerous other lobbying
situations that might violate the law. What an indictment of our
Not only is the contributor off the hook in the legal system,
he is also unlikely to suffer in the political process.
Politicians are accustomed to lobbyists and interest groups
bearing gifts as they seek favors. And politicians tread lightly
when dealing with potential donors - they need their money! The
Speaker of the House, the very person under attack here, came to
the donor's defense. Be gracious to the donor and he may open his
We should post a "Not for Sale" sign on the capitol
and ban the special interest money. Until that time, apparently
even bribery laws will not do much good.