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Sam Smith: The Bribe That Dares Not Use Its Name

The Bribe That Dares Not Use Its Name

By Editor Sam Smith

Private campaign financing is a form of bribery, which Merriam-Webster defines as "money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust." NotE that the gift doesn't have to be illegal to qualify; it's the intent that matters.

Normally, the bribe hides comfortably behind the myth of "campaign contributions," based on the assumption that since everybody does it, it's okay.

But Washington, DC, is something of a special case. Because it is so heavily Democratic, the races are almost always settled at the primary level. This year Adrian Fenty won the mayoral contest. There will be a general election next Tuesday but no one - not even his Statehood Green or Republican opponents - expect him to have the slight problem winninG.

Nonetheless, between the primary and now Fenty has received nearly a half million dollars in contributions, a considerable amount from backers of his opponent in the primary.

Mark Seagraves of WTOP radio news described it: "Big businesses are jumping on the Fenty bandwagon to the tune of $2,000 apiece. The Marriott Corp., usually associated with Republican candidates, donated the maximum $2,000. Fenty's donor list is a who's who of local and national big business.

"Advertising powerhouse Clear Channel did its part with a $2,000 check, so did Ted Lerner, the new owner of the Washington Nationals. In fact, many of the members of the Nationals ownership have pitched in thousands. . .

"WTOP Political Analyst Mark Plotkin says, 'This giving is so predictable. It's called 'don't anger the incumbent.' It's insurance money.' . . . .

"Job seekers are doing their part as well. Many of those on the donor list are current and former members of the Williams administration who have expressed interest in working for Fenty, should he win the general election.

"Law firms, developers, unions, parking lot operators, and even the group that was denied a permit to use the Potomac River for a triathlon, have submitted contributions. . .

"'This is what big winners do. They take money from anybody and everybody, hit 'em up when you're hot. In this case, I don't even think he has to ask,' Plotkin says.

If you give money to a candidate under such circumstances, you do it "in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust." It's a legal bribe that attempts to do precisely the same thing as an illegal bribe. The only difference is that there is no penalty.


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