Congressman Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham have both signed the Grover Norquist pledge. Both are against restoring the San Joaquin River, a project which would bring thousands of jobs to the San Joaquin Valley. Here, Bruce Frohman explores some of the dire consequences of signing the Norquist pledge.
My Congressman signed a pledge to the Grover Norquist political action organization not to raise taxes under any circumstance. Grover Norquist runs an organization whose sole purpose is to elect candidates who will not raise any taxes—ever. This sounds like a noble purpose to the average taxpayer. No one wants to pay more taxes.
After signing the Norquist pledge not to raise taxes, the Congressman receives large campaign contributions from the Norquist organization for his reelection. His signature on the pledge affects how he votes in Congress. This seems like a bribe because payment is received after a pledge is signed and votes are made demonstrating adherence to the pledge. Before coming to a conclusion as to whether a bribe has been paid, wait to read below “what the law says.”
Grover Norquist refuses to say who funds his organization. He has only acknowledged that his money comes from large corporations. Thus, we don’t know the names of the clients directly benefiting from his political activities. Logically, all of his clients benefit. Otherwise, they wouldn’t fund his organization.
The present tax code enables large corporations to pay a small percentage of their income compared to the average citizen. The tax code is riddled with loopholes that have enabled some corporations to pay as little as zero percent in income tax annually. Large corporations have a vested interest in keeping the tax code exactly as it is written.
When sufficient numbers of members of Congress sign the pledge, Congress can’t repeal tax breaks for any corporation. The corporations that provide the contributions through the Norquist organization directly benefit. Through the Congressmen’s votes, the average middle class citizen loses because he usually pays a larger percentage of his income in taxes than corporations even though his income is much less. Most citizens consider the tax system unfair. Congress is unable to make everyone pay his fair share of taxes due to the pledges to the Norquist organization.
What the Law Says
The law says that campaign contributions are not considered bribery. Therefore, no Congressman who has signed the Norquist pledge has taken a bribe according to the law. However, if the Congressman is re-elected, and the large campaign contribution from Norquist makes his re-election certain, the Congressman indirectly benefits financially from the campaign contributions. The Congressman retains his Congressional salary and speaking fees he derives from continuing to hold his position.
The result is comparable to bribery. The unnamed corporate contributors to the Norquist organization benefit from the votes and the Congressman benefits from being reelected with the help of campaign contributions.
Some might refer to the process of giving money through the Norquist organization as money laundering. The giver is hidden from the receiver. The receiver declares that he is ignorant about who his benefactors are and who his votes are favoring. Intent to take a bribe cannot be proven.
How a Campaign Contribution Becomes a Bribe
If a Congressman uses campaign money for personal expenses, he will be prosecuted for misuse of campaign funds. The personal use of campaign funds would provide a direct link between the Norquist organization donations and the financial benefit of the Congressman, a key element of bribery.
The law says that a prosecutor must prove intent in order to establish the existence of a bribe. Was the pledge signed with the expectation of future campaign money from Grover Norquist’s organization? Probably. But the pledge document does not promise a reward for signing the pledge and campaign donations cannot be considered bribery, so intent to bribe or accept a bribe can’t be established.
Operating in the Grey Area of the Law
Acts that are legal but have the appearance of being unethical should not be tolerated by voters. We should not vote for politicians who engage in questionable activity, period. Thanks to the construct of the law, politicians can operate within a large grey area that allows them to engage in dubious practices without fear of legal consequences.
In the main, the public is not well served by politicians who operate within the grey area of the law. When any elected official communicates in advance how he will vote, he does a disservice to his constituents and the nation as a whole. He is no longer gathering all the facts and making the best possible decision with the facts at hand at the time the decision needs to be made. Instead, he has pre-decided the decision and is not free to use his best judgment.
When the Pledge Could Be Most Detrimental
Suppose we enter into another war or have a national emergency? The pledge prevents the expenditure of additional funds without increasing the federal deficit. Taxes can’t be raised to fund an emergency. This policy guarantees the eventual bankruptcy of the nation. We are almost always at war and now the nation has no way to pay for it.
Given the need for government services and a lack of ability to raise revenue, how can the national debt ever be repaid ? Contrary to the assertions of Norquist’s defenders, budget cuts alone will not result in the repayment of the national debt. Tax cuts usually do not increase tax revenue.
Any Congressman or elected official who signs a pledge committing his or her future votes should be voted out of office or removed, period. Regardless of whether an act is considered a bribe, an elected official who cannot vote based on the best interests of his constituents should not hold office.
I agree wholeheartedly!
Accountability to constituents…..that is an elected official’s primary responsiblity.
Fred Herman says
Denham is an unmitigated disaster, a tragedy for the middle class American. Luckily we have so exemplary a candidate in Jose Hernandez. This election is a smaller version of the presidential election, good trying to stem the tide if evil, How a thinking person can still consider voting Republican is a mystery to me.
Kent Mitchell says
Excellent point, Bruce, about the negative aspects of the Norquist tax pledge. Not only does the pledge cover tax increases, it also applies to any temporary decrease in taxes that is about to expire or any attempt to eliminate a tax deduction or loophole. Norquist threatens those not signing the pledge to back opposing candidates who do. This has many GOP legislators running scared, afraid to stand up to Norquist and his bullying tactics.
As mentioned, the result has been a squelching of flexibility during budget negotiations, when most Americans desire compromise in order to solve financial problems. I sense lately Norquist and his group losing some steam. Even some GOP legislators like Lindsey Graham have spoken out against signing such a pledge.
BTW, Bruce, also thought your letter to the editor regarding Social Security was well written and on the mark.
Bruce, your on the money trail! Big money must be taken out of our government, today we have the best or worst money can buy you may say….depends on whether your on the receiving end or not! Republicans are bringing in the cash from these Norquist money laundrying bribing contracts of aligiance. What would our forefathers have done? Would they have challenged Grover to a duel, caught him alone sometime or taken the money too? Americans must wake up to the idea that rape is rape and the same applys to bribery,is bribery . Heed my warning, republicans need to burst the bubble they are in and make dire changes before it is too late !!
David Adalian says
I agree with the evils of the pledge.
But a small point bothers me. You have assumed incorrectly that Congress has the authority to define the meaning of the English word “bribe”. That is obviously incorrect.
Congress has the authority to define what conduct constitutes a punishable offense. But the English word “bribe” retains its prior meaning regardless of the Congressional action.
I don’t have an opinion whether there has been a bribe. But there are two independent meanings by which that can be judged. There can be conduct which constitutes a bribe within the common understanding of the meaning of that term which is nonetheless not a punishable offense.
I suspect that many “political contributions” are in fact “bribes” within the common meaning of the term. When the miscreant gets to define the offense that is exactly the result one would expect.