Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

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The Law of Bribes to Influence Government Officials

by Bill Simon

Prologue

If you have not heard about the recent case of Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lasseter getting caught trading votes for money, click that link and read up on it.

I’m not interested in discussing that case. I’m going to discuss the bribery that goes on in every county commission, in every government office in any city, county, or state, in every single legislative session, and…these acts of bribery pretty much go on every single day.

If you ever read a book by Robert Cialdini called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,”, you would be familiar with the concept of the Law of Reciprocity.

Simply stated, it is the concept that if someone does something nice for you that you like receiving, you (if you are normal) feel an obligation to do something in return. It is a fact of the normal human condition (unless you’re a true psychopath, and you’re just screwed-up in the head, as I’ve discussed previously).

Now, so we all start on the same page of understanding, I feel a couple of definitions are required so that you understand what I am presenting. According to my 1992 version of the American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, this is how “bribery” is defined:

Bribery: “The act or practice of offering, giving, or taking a bribe.”

And, what is a “bribe?” From the same dictionary:

Bribe: “Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct.”

You see, we don’t need to wait for the FBI or a federal prosecutor to define for this state what “bribery” is. It is clear what it is. It is something given, such as money or a favor (or a gift) to someone else to influence that decision-maker. Period.

In fact…I will predict that this might be so basic a concept that even someone who attended Washington & Lee Law School in Lexington, Virginia would understand it. And, if THEY can understand it, then surely any lawyer from the likes of UGA, Emory, Georgia State University Law (truly, the best law school in Georgia), Mercer, or John Marshall Law, or any other law school in Amerika would also be able to easily grasp this concept.

SO…Ladies and Gentlemen, think about this: What do you suppose the reasoning is as to why lobbyists buy meals, buy tickets, buy all sorts of stuff for legislators, county commissioners, attorney generals, governors, Lt. governors, commissioners, et al. is? They are bribing these folks to influence these government decision-makers.

It’s not because they are their “best friends.” It’s simply to gain influence over the government decision-maker (the person who can direct dollars of contracts to the lobbyist’s client). Anyone who denies this is either stupid, ignorant, or just plain too mentally corrupt to admit it.

It’s Not The Dollar Amounts That’s Important….

Which of these situations do you think would enable a lobbyist to develop a closer relationship with a government decision-maker: 1) A lobbyist who spends $1000 on one key decision-maker one time (say, lodging, meals, entertainment for a 2-day seminar in West Bumblefart, Texas), or, 2) A lobbyist who spent $50 per week for 20 weeks straight to eat a meal with that same key decision-maker?

You see, I believe too many people in this state are spending their time focusing on large dollar amounts as the “cause” of the influencing rather than the actual fact of dollars (i.e., a free meal, a football ticket, a blanky, etc.) being accepted by the decision-makers.

It is not just a matter of the “dollar amounts” being spent. People get confused all the time in looking at dollar amounts and then putting themselves in the shoes of a legislator and concluding “No one can buy my vote for a pair of football tickets to the Dawgs’ game, and I don’t believe Legislator X would be bought either.”

The fact is, it is not the dollar amounts involved. It is the repetition of the opportunities to spend face-to-face time that the lobbyist uses the bribes to easily develop a relationship with the legislator. The key factor to a legislator’s ego is the fact that someone is buying them a meal (or giving them free football tickets, etc.) and that interaction serves to help develop a very close “friendship” (albeit only for the purpose of getting taxpayer dollars steered the way the lobbyist wants them to go), between the lawmaker and the lobbyist.

That “friendship/relationship” leads to that lobbyist, who works on behalf of the entity paying for the bribes, being quite influential of that legislator’s views, opinions, thoughts and conduct when it comes to either writing legislation, or voting on legislation.

Are “friendships” amongst legislators and lobbyists a bad or evil thing? Not as long as that “friendship” was developed on neutral ground without the presence of bribes. Bribes , though, skew all relationships, and in this case, it hurts the taxpayers the most, because it is their money that is being spent on behalf of the “special interests.”

When relationships are built on bribes, the decision-maker leans heavily on the lobbyist for guidance in just about everything in their political lives. Even those legislators who proclaim “No lobbyist ever influences me. I can think for myself.”

Yeahhhh…except when that legislator tells you “Oh, I check with Legislator Jan, Legislator Edward, and Legislator Bob for how they think and I rely on my pals for good guidance.” Right…and those other legislators are the ones being bribed EVEN more than the first one to make sure they can influence the first legislator.

While some people may term this concept of offering bribes to legislators as “business as usual in Georgia,” here’s a basic question: Would it be okay for a judge to be offered free meals (free football tickets, etc.) by prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, corporations, et al. who are, may be, or have been involved in litigation in their court? Why is it okay for a legislator to accept bribes but not judges?

And, by the way, you legislators get paid..what?…$178 per day to take care of your meals and other stuff during the session? Why can’t you pay for YOUR OWN meals? Why do you feel the need to have someone else pay for your “time” while you get courted by the bribing lobbyist?

Who Is The Most Influential in Giving Bribes?

Just for grins, I recently did a little analysis regarding the amount of bribes that lobbyists with the Board of Regents, the University System of Georgia (“USG”), and other various and sundry colleges and universities under USG disclosed in the Lobbyist Disclosure Database.

From January 1, 2006 thru March 31, 2012, lobbyists working within the umbrella of USG spent a total of approximately $687,000, showering members of the legislature, as well as other influential government personnel, with countless free meals, plentiful free football tickets (UGA football games, of course, being the most treasured by legislators), free lodging at various events, free travel to some locations out of state, and free gifts of a various and sundry nature. In fact, if you want to play with the data, there is an Excel data file showing all these transactions disclosed by the USG lobbyists supplying the bribes to the legislators available as a download here.

Now, a true conservatively-minded person might propose asking:“Heyyyy…isn’t the University System of Georgia supplied by our tax dollars? Why are they even allowed to use taxpayers dollars to bribe legislators?”

Well, that’s a dandy fine question to ask. In fact, if you are a candidate running against any incumbent, maybe you should ask that person just that question. Because, in reality, a government entity does not have a “right to free speech.”

It is illegal (somewhere deep in the state ethics law) for any government entity to contribute money to a political campaign (yes, unless you’re a CID who doesn’t give a sh*t about laws), so…how is it legal for a taxpayer-funded public entity like the Board of Regents/University System of Georgia to engage in using taxpayer funds to lobby the Legislature??? (Hello! McFly??? McFly?)

For that matter, how is it legal for any government entity to even hire a lobbyist?…Just, think about that, Mr./Ms. Legislator…you know, after you get done dabbing your mouth after enjoying the fine meal paid for by Mr. Thomas Daniel with the University System of Georgia…

Now, here’s an interesting aside. In the realm of giving tickets to (mostly) Georgia legislative decision-makers, can you guess who are the top five entities that gave the highest in total dollar value of tickets to legislators during the time period of January 1, 2006 – March 31, 2012?

#1: University System of Georgia/Board of Regents: $143,189
#2: Ga World Congress Center: $99,167
#3: Georgia Power Company: $82,152
#4: AGL Resources: $40,727
#5: AT&T: $19,305

Wow. The Top Two are funded straight out of taxpayer dollars. Great. And, the other three of the Top Five are regulated monopolies. Awesome. (Nooooooo undue influence going on in Georgia…nope. See No Influence. Hear No Influence. Speak No Influence.)

And, the typical corrupt-minded legislator would say “Nooooo, there’s nothing unethical about a taxpayer-funded entity using taxpayer dollars to employ a lobbyist to get MORE taxpayer dollars sent their way…Why, if there was, we all-so-smart-and-honest Legislators (who get these free tickets stuffed down our throats and in our underwear and elsewhere) would tell you good people of Georgia that we thought this was unethical and we would change the law.” (Anyone have a forecast for when pigs will start flying some time this century? Anyone?…Bueller?)

Yeah…and, so, that SB 31 “favor” to Georgia Power a couple of years agonoooooo bribery at all was used by Georgia Power giving gobs of free tickets to legislators, right? Nope. Bribes offered, bribes accepted, but no undue influence at all, right?

You legislators think you came up with that decision all on your own, right? How could that be? You do not know how to think on your own. When is the last time you actually came up with an original thought for legislation that did not originate from the mind of a lobbyist?

Who else tries to influence government decision-makers by bribing them with tickets to all kinds of events? Well…download and thumb thru at your leisure this PDF report on all entities who have disclosed themselves as giving bribes in free tickets to (mostly) legislators to build that influencing relationship…the kind of influence that sways a legislator to vote for a bill over the objections of their own constituents, or their own oath of office.

The report is in alphabetical order. It’s 198 pages long. There’s some good stuff in there. See who has influence over legislators, the kind of influence that has caused Georgia government to grow like a liberally-tended weed garden (as opposed to being conservatively-managed), and have more and more laws passed on the books that restrict and constrict the liberty of the people living in this state.

The Farce of the $100 Cap

YES, to my friends over at the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, to Common Cause, to all people in Georgia who think the “problem” is the single-point dollar amounts that a lobbyist spends to bribe any government decision-maker in this state, the $100 Cap is a farce. Sorry to break the news to you in this manner, but let me explain why. It’s a farce for several reasons.

1) Not all of the money being spent right now to bribe legislators is even reported or disclosed. Why? Because there are LOTS of these exact situations: A lobbyist sets-up a dinner between several legislators and the lobbyist’s client. A wonderful 8-course meal is enjoyed. The client picks-up the tab for $1500. The lobbyist never touches the bill. The client is not a registered lobbyist. Nothing illegal (in this state, anyway) transpired, but the client got 4 hours of the legislators’ undivided attention to make his presentation, as well as give the legislators some inside stock tip information about how great their company will do if the legislators go a certain way on a certain bill that hasn’t yet been written, but will be shortly after this dinner…and sponsored by one or more of those legislators at that dinner.

So, the underground money will still flow if there is a $100 Cap…and likely, even more so.

2) Here is a PDF Report of all of the bribes from lobbyists that have been offered and accepted by Senator Don Balfour for the period of January 1, 2006 through March 31, 2012. Except for the lodging ones, most of the bribes reported by the lobbyists are below $100.00….and, furthermore, certain lobbyists are rather creative and with a cap of $100.00 per transaction, all they will do is just spend some more administrative time breaking down the expenditures to sub-parts of the $100 cap.

You can also bet that the University System of Georgia lobbyists, and World Congress Center Authority lobbyists will figure out how to mark-down the face value of those tickets they give legislators to all be just at or just under the $100 cap.

3) There is no way that Speaker David Ralston will ever give-up the stream of bribes he embraces wholeheartedly…as this PDF Report of his acceptance of bribes shows.

In fact, every time I think of our legislative and executive branches of Georgia government…and their love of consuming bribes, I think about a scene from a movie called The Meaning of Life. This scene could possibly apply to ANY legislator or executive branch bigwig in Georgia who sees absolutely nothing wrong with the gluttony of accepting a bribe from a lobbyist whose sole intention is nothing other than to get inside some decision-maker’s head and do all their thinking for them.

So, to set you up for this scene, the tall waiter (played by John Cleese) offering the “wafer-thin mint ” can represent ANY lobbyist you want…and the guy sitting on the chair is ANY legislator (or executive branch member…be for the State of Georgia, or perhaps, a certain county commission chair in Cobb County) you want to put there in your mind…and…enjoy the scene ( Warning : a brief exclamation of profanity is in the scene):

If Not A Cap, Then What?

Well, one day, David Ralston may not be Speaker anymore (whether he explodes like Mr. Creosote or someone with balls takes him on for the speakership and wins). And…when that happens, there may be a chance for someone with true integrity and someone who knows right from wrong to be a truly “honorable” leader in this state.

Here’s an idea: How about making the onus on the legislator (or other government decision-maker) to not be able to accept any gift? Pass a law stating “No legislator or executive of a political subdivision in Georgia shall accept a gift, money, or gratuities while representing the government for whom they work.” Or, something like this.

If you are a government decision-maker, you should pay for your own damn meals when you sit down with a lobbyist for lunch or dinner or breakfast, or a coffee. The Law of Reciprocity is always at work in your mind to get you to reciprocate in some way when someone else pays for your meals, or gives you a gift.

Try acting like (I presume, anyway) the Judicial Branch does in this state, and do not accept any gratuities . Yeahhh!!!…quit cold turkey.

Or, don’t. I doubt any of you in the legislature (or, state government in general) have that kind of integrity, to tell you the truth. But, by all means, make the public showing to pray before every legislative day, asking God for “guidance” while you happily allow yourself (like the proverbial pig in ****) to be influenced by the “Lobbyist-Who-Is-My-Best-Friend-Who-Will-Never-Lie-To-Me” and who gives you football or Braves tickets to make sure that “friendship” is maintained beyond the office walls where the (cough!-cough!) “People’s (sic) Business” is being conducted.

By all means, expand that gut of yours and consume every…single…bribe any lobbyist ever offers you. After all, they all just love you and respect you for you, right? They would be your “best friend” in any environment away from your public position, right? (<--- insert heavy sarcasm here)

One Response to “The Law of Bribes to Influence Government Officials”

  1. TaxSage Says:

    I am still wondering why the US Pharma group payment of $150 MILLION to promote Obamacare in return for favorable treatment in the law IS NOT A BRIBE! A benefit was derived by the President and his allied (a costly promotion campaign) in return for their passing laws to Pharma’s liking.

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