Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, September 6, 2015

You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?

Politicians who like taking campaign contributions and other perks from lobbyists and special interests often claim that they do not return favors by putting forth legislation, or supporting/squelching or other related actions, based on the ostensible bribe.

When they say that, are they telling the truth?

Maybe. Just maybe. It's possible those pols/elected officials simply have deficient self-awareness and actually do not realize the influence that those donors have on them. After all, are there not laws in just about every jurisdiction in the United States that prohibit blatant bribery?

Consider a scenario from everyday life in Arizona.

All around us, we are bombarded by advertising and other messaging trying to get us to part with our money in the ordinary course of commerce. I've grown weary of advertising and do not listen to commercial radio when driving. Nor do I watch commercial television. Nevertheless, there are other very powerful mechanisms for influencing compliance on a much more subtle level.

I drive a car. It's actually a 22-year old pickup truck that I purchased new in 1993. It now has more than 230,000 miles on it. As you can imagine, the original tires are long gone. How do I decide where to purchase new tires when I need them?

Well, Discount Tires has been around for a long time. They had (and may still run) a clever video ad showing an older lady throwing a tire through one of their store windows. Doesn't matter what the motto was. The image sticks with me. Even years after the last time I saw the ad.

BUT the other very clever sales motivating tool Discount Tires uses is to offer free tire pressure checks, no questions asked. When I was a kid, gas stations provided free air pumps for bicycle and car tires. These days, if you want to check your tire pressure at a gas station, you have to pay for it. I think 75 cents is the going rate.

Alternatives include having your own tire pump. Inexpensive and compact pumps (keep one in your car's trunk), likely made in China, can be easily obtained at any auto parts, department, or warehouse store. I have one. But if I don't have the time or don't want to get down on the ground in my expensive suit (if I had one), I can just quickly pull through the parking lot at any Discount Tire store. I do so generally once a month. Simple. Convenient. Friendly, and most importantly, NO CHARGE even though the attendant is obviously getting paid to provide the service.

Guess where I went to buy the last four tires that I needed? After all, they've already established a relationship of trust with me.

This is relevant because sitting lawmakers generally go to great lengths to rationalize the access they give to lobbyists. They often say lobbyists simply (and FREELY) provide information not easily available for consideration of complex issues. They are completely correct on that point.

However, when it comes time to level with voters and the news media, they do nothing but deny, deny, deny any quid pro quo. Some might call that tactic "self-justifying rationalization."

Anyway, a Harvard study made distinction between legal and illegal corruption. That's important. Might legal corruption be a root cause of voter apathy?

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In Arizona's criminal code (ARS Title 13), there's an entire chapter (26) devoted to the crime of bribery. Section 13-2602 states:

     A. A person commits bribery of a public servant or party officer if with corrupt intent:
1. Such person offers, confers or agrees to confer any benefit upon a public servant or party officer with the intent to influence the public servant's or party officer's vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action in his official capacity as a public servant or party officer; or
2. While a public servant or party officer, such person solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any benefit upon an agreement or understanding that his vote, opinion, judgment, exercise of discretion or other action as a public servant or party officer may thereby be influenced.
B. It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that a person sought to be influenced was not qualified to act in the desired way because such person had not yet assumed office, lacked jurisdiction or for any other reason.
C. Bribery of a public servant or party officer is a class 4 felony. 

Class 4 felony offenses carry a presumptive minimum sentence of one year imprisonment, but with aggravating factors could go as high as 3.75 years.

Can you imagine the cost of incarceration if all of the bribery going on at the Arizona Capitol were actually and successfully prosecuted? Key word there is "imagine." Because we don't, for multiple reasons, know the extent of the bribery that takes place. But we do know some things that give us tangible clues.

First, we know that for decades, concerned citizens have been calling for laws to prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers and other elected officials. Second, we have scholarly analyses of laws and practices that elucidate the frameworks in various jurisdictions that hide, or at least partially obscure, the practice of bribery as "business as usual." Just last December, the Harvard study named Arizona as the most corrupt state in the country.

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Many of my friends have already learned that I filed, with the Arizona Secretary of State, a statement of organization for a campaign committee to support my 2016 run for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. On Facebook, I also established a campaign page where I will keep friends posted on the latest news and events in my campaign.

While it may be early to say there will be an open seat in the Arizona House for LD26, for the 2016 election, both incumbents, Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood, have expressed interest in the upcoming vacancy in the LD26 Senate seat. Sen. Ed Ableser, as Arizona Eagletarian readers know, has announced his resignation, effective at the end of this month.

I believe both Juan and Andrew should be on the list LD26 Precinct Committeepersons forward to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in due time (probably in October). One of them should be appointed to the Senate because they have experience with the legislative process.

Further, I fully support the effort by Tempe City Councilmembers David Schapira, Lauren Kuby and Kolby Granville to implement a Clean Elections funding mechanism for Tempe city elections.

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

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