Bush's Pay Hike Promise:

                I Call it Vote Buying

                   If you were to offer somebody $20 to vote
                   for you in a federal election, you would be
                   a criminal, subject to a term in federal prison.

                   But George W. Bush is promising members of the U.S. armed forces that
                   if he is elected, he will increase their pay by an average of $750 a year
                   out of your tax dollars "to renew the bond of trust between the
                   President and the military."

                   Former Vice President Dan Quayle accused the lavishly funded
                   Bush campaign of buying votes in the August 1999 Iowa straw poll.
                   But Bush now takes his vote buying one step further: He is offering
                   public money for votes.

                   Sure, this happens all the time. Politicians offer to champion higher
                   pay for teachers or bigger farm subsidies or full funding for Head
                   Start or construction of a new Seawolf submarine or any of a zillion
                   things that implicitly carry a cash reward in exchange for a vote.
                   But candidates are seldom as blatant or specific as Bush. He puts
                   an exact price tag $750 on his proposal to increase military
                   pay, and he does it as part of a campaign pitch.

                   Now let us look at Title 18, U.S. Code, Chapter 29, section 597:

                   "Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person,
                   either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any
                   candidate ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more
                   than one year or both. ..."

                   Section 600 of the same act makes it illegal to promise, "directly or
                   indirectly," any compensation voted by Congress e.g., military
                   pay as a reward for supporting any candidate. That, too, is worth
                   a year.

                   Chapter 29 is serious stuff, and some parts of it are scrupulously
                   honored. Section 600, for example, also makes it illegal to promise
                   anyone a federal job during the course of an election campaign. This
                   is why Bush cannot come right out and say that if he wins, he will
                   make Colin Powell his secretary of state.

                   Vice President Gore has been rightly raked over the coals for his
                   receipt of fake contributions from Buddhist nuns and for his
                   borderline-legal solicitation of funds from his White House office.

                   Bush's promise of Treasury cash for military votes seems at least as
                   bad as Gore's conduct a black-and-white violation of the clear
                   language of U.S. criminal law. Surely, we need an independent
                   counsel, congressional hearings and pious denunciations by the
                   various watchdog organizations that police our politics.

                   Somehow, I suspect none of this will happen.

                   "It's just a promise of pork," says Peter Eisner, managing director of
                   the Center for Public Integrity. "You have to put it in the context of
                   Gore pointing out that he served in Vietnam and Bush didn't. This is
                   one of the games people play."

                   It may be argued that Bush is not promising individuals cash for
                   votes. Phillip Sparkman of Pippa Passes, Ky., was sentenced last
                   month to two years in prison for paying $30 for votes in a 1998
                   Democratic primary. If Bush offered an individual serviceman or
                   woman $750 to vote for him, that would no doubt be a crime.

                   But if he offers all 1.37 million members of the armed forces a $1
                   billion taxpayer-funded raise just as soon as he wins the presidency,
                   is it just politics as usual? I don't think so. I say, cuff him.

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