We may be about to get
another glimpse into “backstage politics.” Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed House
Speaker Pro-Tem Richard Morgan to testify before the grand jury. They want to
ask Morgan about is a $100,000 donation “a small cigarette manufacturer” gave
“a political group” he created in 2004 – a year after Morgan stopped legislation
the manufacturer opposed. Morgan has also been asked to “provide information on
37 individuals or entities,” everyone from video poker interests to lottery
venders. (News and Observer;11-14-06).
Prosecutors are following
a ‘money trail’ from corporations (and donors) through the labyrinths of the legislature
to elected officials political committees. This should lead them into the dark corners
of ‘backstage politics’ and give us another unique glimpse how the legislature
No one has accused Representative
Morgan of doing one thing illegal. So let’s use ‘the cigarette manufacturer’ giving
him $100,000 as a hypothetical example.
It was perfectly legal for them to give to Morgan’s political committee.
What would be illegal was if it turned
out Morgan said (which no one alleges he did), Give me $100,000 and I’ll stop that bill. That type of ‘quid pro
quo’ is illegal but those words are seldom, if ever, spoken. Indeed, they are not
necessary. Both sides already know what’s at stake when a donor has a bill pending
in the legislature. And, if any explanation is needed, it can be explained in codes.
For instance, the CEO
of a trade group – say a lottery vender – might go to a legislator and say, My group wants to stop a bill. How can we do
The legislator might
say, The first thing you have to do is
get active. Get involved in politics.
CEO (puzzled), How do we do that?
Legislator, One way is to give money. And get your
members to give money. And, if anyone missed the point a few days later, an
invitation to the legislator’s fundraiser arrives in the mail.
This happens almost
every day. It’s perfectly legal. The law says ‘quid pro quo’s’ are illegal, but
the system allows them as long as they are never explicitly stated, as long as the
words, ‘You give this and I’ll do that,’
are never spoken.
Practically there is
not much difference between a spoken and unspoken ‘quid pro quo’ – but legally
the difference is immense. What’s the solution? No one’s come up with on other
than prohibiting donations from people lobbying (or hiring lobbyists) to pass
bills. But there’s one big problem with that. The legislators receiving the
donations are the ones who get to vote on the law. So far, that idea has been
DOA in the legislature.