Hey Big Daddy,
I am a chief of staff for a Democratic member. After a tough vote on a bill,
the author asked me to follow him into his Capitol office. He then busted
out a checkbook and gave me a contribution to my member’s re-election
campaign. I don’t want to turn it down, and I don’t want to take it. What
should I do?
That damn Political Reform Act (PRA) has messed up more good business
dealings–and created an army of lawyers to interpret, protect and devise
ways to get around it–than anyone ever could have imagined was possible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Big Daddy isn’t saying that he has ever condoned
bribery, pay-offs or anything of the sort. It’s like that old joke, where a
man says to a woman, “Would you sleep with me for $100,000?” and she says,
“Absolutely.” Then he says, “Would you sleep with me for $1?” and she slaps
him, saying, “Of course not, what kind of a girl do you think I am?” Which
gives the man the opportunity to say, “We’ve already established that. Now
we’re just haggling over price.”
In other words the PRA doesn’t stop corruption, it just forces people who
are intent on doing something illegal, sleazy or underhanded to work a
little harder and be a little more clever in order to accomplish their goal.
Since your only two choices are to commit a felony by accepting the money or
to risk committing political suicide by turning it down, I’d have to say
that you are, in a word, screwed. The only way out of this mess for you
depends both on your ability to think quickly and the nature of the member
you’re dealing with. To wit: If you’re dealing with the second coming of
Chet Wray Chet, chances are he’ll keep writing you check after check, even
if you keep turning them down. The only way you’ll escape the office without
a check in your hands is if his pen runs out of ink.
If you’re dealing with a member who has a particularly itchy trigger finger,
chances are any attempt by you to simply clear your throat will force him to
make that check out to your boss’ opponent. At least your problem is solved
and, given the gerrymandered district your boss no doubt sits in (since
everybody’s boss sits in a gerrymandered district these days), I doubt he’ll
have an electoral problem.
The way out of this mess, like most messes involving members of the
Legislature who have grown accustomed to sitting around while other people
do things for them, is to come up with an alternative that you like, but
make the member think it’s his or her own idea. Most members tend to love
their own ideas, so this is a relatively safe strategy.
For example, you could offer to buy your not-so-secret Santa a hot dog from
the vendor down on the sidewalk, across the street from the Capitol, and
allow him to make his contribution–which certainly would never be tied to
any vote that was cast for or against any bill–at that point.
Tell the member how much your boss loves to get mail and hand over a
self-addressed stamped envelope that he or she can load the check in and
drop into the nearest mailbox on their way to Bedell’s.
Given the wattage on the bulb that tried to pull this on you, I can’t
imagine getting them to bite on one of these approaches or to think it’s
their own idea will be tremendously difficult.