Sunday, October 08, 2006

A penny for your thoughts... A dollar for your vote...

A fundraising gimmick you may have seen from time to time is to mail the potential donor a nickel, or some other small sum of money, with an appeal letter asking the reader to send the nickel back along with a generous donation. I've always found these to be a little bit offensive - trying to guilt me into returning the nickel - but they work. Many legitimate national nonprofits have raised quite a bit of money in this way.

But what happens when you apply that successful nonprofit fundraising technique to politics? Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is finding out right now.

He (or, rather, his campaign) sent his supporters each a nice, crisp one dollar bill. It's not a get-out-the-vote bribe, they say. It was an appeal to return the dollar bill, along with a check with a campaign contribution.

Two problems with this. First, the minor technical violation, is that Maryland election laws require all campaign expenditures to be made by check (for easy record keeping and tracking of funds). The dollar bills are [duh] cash.

The second problem is a little bit more serious. It is illegal to give people money in exchange for their vote. Now, I thought that by the 21st century this would be a well known fact by anybody outside of Chicago (sorry), but maybe this needs a little repeating: It is illegal to give people money in exchange for their vote.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver dismissed the matter as "ridiculous."

"We're confident that we've acted within the parameters of Maryland campaign finance law," she said, adding that Ehrlich used the same tactic four years ago.
Hello? Ridiculous? Used the same tactic four years ago? And nobody noticed? (And, obviously, he won).

I thought that Maryland politics had been cleaned up a bit since the days when Spiro Agnew was still taking bribes for Maryland public works projects from his office in the White House. I guess I was wrong. (For you kids out there, Spiro was once Vice President of the U.S. but resigned due to "tax problems").

Authorities are looking into the matter. According to the Washington Post:
If the state prosecutor determines that a criminal violation has occurred, the office will forward its findings to the attorney general and a local state's attorney. The potential violations involved with Ehrlich's mailer carry the possibility of fines and prison time, although the latter seems unlikely, according to those familiar with the case.
Ooh, goody! A slight chance of a fine. No jail time. And absolutely no mention of him being forced from office. A clear signal that it is now perfectly acceptable for candidates to purchase votes in the free market. Three cheers for democratic capitalism!

(Isn't it great that I got through the entire posting without pointing out that Ehrlich is a Republican?)

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