Share

POLITICS

What’s the difference between what Buzzfeed Chairman Kenneth Lerer reportedly just said and illegal bribery?

By |
Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Democrat blogger Greg Sargent of the Washington Post has an interesting story about wealthy Democrats reportedly demanding public actions from elected officials in exchange for campaign contributions:

Kenneth Lerer, a New York businessman who is chairman of Buzzfeed.com, and David Bohnett, a technology entrepreneur and philanthopist based in Los Angeles, are both major financial supporters of Democratic candidates, having each given scores of large contributions over the years. They are both key players in the political fundraising world and wield influence among other donors and fundraisers.

Neither will give another dime to any Senate Democrat who does not support expanded background checks, I’m told — and both will suggest to other donors that they do the same….

Lerer also said he would be intensifying his contributions to Democratic Senate candidates in the next few years — excluding any that don’t take a strong position on gun control.

If Sargent’s report is accurate, this sounds like a quid pro quo to me: if and only if you support my favored policies, I will give you campaign contributions.

I’m not a lawyer, and I have no idea what makes a campaign contribution an illegal bribe. Here’s how a 2012 WaPo article explained the law around these things:

Federal law makes it a crime to corruptly solicit or accept money with the intent of being rewarded or influenced in official actions, and prosecutors have said campaign contributions can be part of such a scheme.

The Supreme Court’s guidance on the issue is thin. In 1991, it ruled that a campaign contribution could be a bribe if prosecutors proved a quid pro quo — that the contribution was “made in return for an explicit promise or undertaking by the official to perform or not to perform an official act.”

In a subsequent case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the quid pro quo need not be expressly stated. But lower courts have differed, since then, on exactly what standards apply.

I imagine Lerer has consulted a lawyer and figured out how to stay on the right side of bribery law while placing conditions on his campaign contributions. I’d love to hear the distinctions.

View article comments Leave a comment