Two progressive groups are gathering contributions – more than $1 million so far— pledged to a yet-to-be-named opponent to Maine Senator Susan Collins if she votes for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. “Either Sen. Collins VOTES NO on Kavanaugh OR we fund her future opponent,” a crowdfunding page declares. The senator complained that this is “bribery,” a charge echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Are Collins and McConnell serious, or is the claim mere partisan rhetoric? Do they really think this proposition amounts to a federal crime? It’s hard to say what they’re thinking, but it’s worth considering the accusation on its own terms, since it reveals something important about the topsy-turvy, down-is-up culture that now prevails in the world of campaign finance and political corruption law.
Federal bribery law makes it a crime for a person to give or offer something of value to a government official with an intent to influence an official act. In the classic scenario, a lobbyist gives a senator a briefcase full of cash in return for the senator’s vote for or against some piece of legislation. The courts call this a quid pro quo.
The Collins case doesn’t quite follow that script for two reasons. First, voters are not trying to persuade Collins to vote against Kavanaugh by offering her money to do so. Rather, they’re threatening to help her as-yet-unnamed opponent. Even if she did “accept” the proposition, she still wouldn’t see any money. In that sense, there’s clearly not been any offer of a bribe.