Celebrating Bribery, Extortion, and the End of the Secret Ballot
I know that liberals really, really want to see the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), and especially its card-check provisions, pushed through as soon as possible. I also know that there is little they would love more than getting Arlen Specter to become a card-carrying Democrat and give the Dems a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. I get that.
But the excitement over this strikes me as deeply misplaced. To sum up the news at that link, it would appear that the AFL-CIO has promised Senator Specter that they will “back him to the hilt” if he supports EFCA. There is some speculation that, should this happen, it would mean that Specter would switch parties and become a Democrat since the support of Big Labor would hurt him in a Republican primary he’s already got a very good chance of losing, whereas it would obviously help him quite a bit in a Dem Primary.
There is one really big problem with this scenario, though: it’s bribery, plain and simple. What we are talking about here is not your ordinary campaign contribution where there is at least theoretically the possibility (and in practice, the extreme likelihood) that the contribution is not in exchange for a particular vote or action by the elected official. No, what we are talking about is an explicit quid pro quo: the legislator’s vote on a specific issue for financial and political support in a re-election campaign.
But aren’t campaign contributions exempt from bribery laws? No – read the federal bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. 201. And while you’re at it, read the Hobbs Act’s extortion provisions. Admittedly, the Supreme Court has limited the reach of these anti-corruption laws to campaign contributions. But those limits are in place merely to deal with the realities of a privately-financed campaign system. They do not extend so far as to exempt explicit quid pro quo’s, which is exactly what we have here – by the union source’s own admission.
None of this is to say that I expect Specter or the AFL-CIO to get prosecuted for this should it become a reality – prosecutors are, so far as I know, pretty reluctant to go after politicians and organizations for bribery or bribery-related offenses when the value exchanged is campaign support and contributions. But publicly acknowledging that there is an explicit quid pro quo is probably the best way I can imagine to call a prosecutor’s attention to your actions (and to the elected official’s).
While we’re on the subject of EFCA, I just want to express my exasperation with the idea that the only reason to oppose EFCA is because one is anti-union. Let me provide a hypothetical that sums up the moral problem with card-check legislation:
Imagine having card-check in a federal election. In this scenario, the election takes place over several weeks. If at any time during that period you decide to vote for the opposition candidate, you turn in your card and have irrevocably cast a ballot in that candidate’s favor. Let us also assume that the campaign for the opposition candidate is being directed by several of your neighbors, with whom you may or may not be friends, but who you definitely don’t want to turn into enemies. Those neighbors also happen to be the ones who collect the ballots that are turned in for the opposition candidate.
But the incumbent is attacking unfairly, you say! And the opposition party lacks the bully pulpit of the incumbent! Does this really matter? Isn’t what matters more the fact that you have close personal ties to the very people who are running the campaign for the opposition candidate, who will also get to see whether you voted for the opposition candidate? Doesn’t it also matter quite a bit that you only need to decide to vote for that opposition candidate for a few moments over the course of several weeks of campaigning in order to irrevocably vote for that campaign? Is your vote in that situation really the vote that you think is best or is it much more likely that the vote is the product of peer pressure and a desire to have the respect of your neighbors?
That’s the problem I have with card-check – it is antithetical to any concept of free choice. Indeed, many of the advocates of card-check often seem to implicitly admit that it is undemocratic, but instead justify it on the grounds that the existing system is so biased against unions that anything that makes it less so is an improvement. In other words, the ends justify the means. That there may be other, perfectly ethical, means to achieve these ends does not seem to have crossed their minds. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s simply no reason why unions or Democrats should be pushing something as inherently illiberal as card-check when they could achieve much the same result (i.e., increased union membership) by simply repealing portions of the Taft-Hartley Act.
Taking a more ethical approach like pushing for the repeal of parts of Taft-Hartley would be politically wise, as well. Rather than having to falsely defend card-check as if it were the only way to “help the working class,” Democrats would be able to paint themselves as being both pro-union and pro-liberty, while portraying the Republicans as being not only against the “working class” but also against smaller, less intrusive government. But so far as I know, no Dem politician or liberal thinker of any note has remotely considered this option. If it is card-check that the unions want, it is card-check that the unions shall have; smart politics goes out the window right along with considerations of right and wrong.
Once one identifies too closely with a political tribe, independent thought is the first thing to go, I guess.