December 05, 2003
Who bribed Rep. Smith?

So you've probably heard about the strongarm tactics used on Rep. Nick Smith (R, Michigan) to vote for the godawful Medicare bill. To recap, as Robert Novak reported:

On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, [Rep.] Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

The basic details of the story have since been confirmed by Rep. Smith's spokesman, which led Timothy Noah to note that this was a direct violation of federal law regarding bribery:

[A person commits bribery if he or she] directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent to influence any official act.

The story is now getting some national attention, with formal complaints filed with the Justice Department by the Campaign Legal Center and DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe (PDF, but read it anyway, it's pretty scathing). The Detroit Free Press is urging Smith to come clean as well.

Not too unexpectedly, Smith is now backing away from what he said, though Noah notes that Smith's own web page still mentions "bribes and special deals" and "offers of extensive financial campaign support" for his son Brad Smith. The Justice Department says it's investigating, but I have about as much faith as McAuliffe that John Ashcroft's lackeys will find anything. Still, I'll be watching and hoping I'm proven wrong.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 05, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Any bets on how long before he gives that page the Karl Rove treatment and deletes it or edits it?

Posted by: Greg Wythe on December 5, 2003 4:03 PM

Of course he's going to edit it, because he's saying that his words have been misinterpreted.

Whether he's changed his mind or not is another story.

In general though, I'm extremely wary of things like this. Horsetrading, threats, and influence are all inherent and natural parts of the political process. They can't be sanitized away, and doing so would do more harm than bad.

Both parties do this. I just can't get upset about this.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on December 6, 2003 12:39 AM

WADR, the promise of money, or the withholding of money, in exchange for a vote one way or the other, looks a lot like bribery to me. "Horsetrading, threats, and influence" are indeed usual, and by and large legal, but that doesn't begin to describe what appears to have taken place. This apparently blatant quid-pro-quo (and quite a lot of quid at that, at least by my standards) bothers me a lot, and would bother me no matter the identity or political alignment of recipient and payer.

Besides, that sort of wide-open handing out of money on the floor is supposed to happen only in the Texas Lege...

Posted by: Steve Bates on December 6, 2003 10:59 PM

I don't think it's prosecutable, even if you think it's morally objectionable (I don't). Because the offer was apparently offers of campaign assistance for the son, they almost definitely wouldn't be able to get a bribery charge to stick.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on December 7, 2003 1:12 AM