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
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.