The Bribery of Vote-Trading

“A method of legislative bribery not yet reached by the criminal statutes is that of vote-trading; a form of intimidation not yet defined in the codes is that of threatening a legislator with defeat of his important measures to force him to vote against his convictions.

“Eventually both these corrupt practices will be properly classified, both in public opinion and the law,.

“For a member to agree to vote for a measure, which he knows to be bad, or against a measure, which he knows to be good, to secure support for his own bill is quite as mischievous as though he had taken cash for it.

“For a legislator or lobbyist to threaten a member with defeat of some measure in the passage of which the member or his constituents may be interested, classifies very well with threat to do injury to property or to person.

“One of the weaknesses of the current legislative process is that it lends itself to such bribery and to such intimidation.” 

     –Franklin Hichborn, the Story of the Session of the California Legislature of 1913

Filed under: Overheard


  1. Greg: Penal Code Section 86 comes pretty close to what you’re talking about:

    86. Every Member of either house of the Legislature, or any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive, any bribe, upon any understanding that his or her official vote, opinion, judgment, or action shall be influenced thereby, or shall give, in any particular manner, or upon any particular side of any question or matter upon which he or she may be required to act in his or her official capacity, or gives, or offers or promises to give, any official vote in consideration that another Member of the Legislature, or another member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district shall give this vote either upon the same or another question, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) or not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or two thousand dollars ($2,000), whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or ten thousand dollars ($10,000), whichever is greater.
    In imposing a fine under this section, the court shall consider
    the defendant’s ability to pay the fine.

    Comment by Carl Brakensiek — 5.03.2012 @ 3:49 pm

  2. Everyone in the state is covered under this bribery / extortion section EXCEPT the Governor.

    It used to be just the legislature, but a few years ago I wrote legislation to cover county and local officials (because it was rampant there).

    We wanted to include the Governor in this, figuring that that would be good government – but was told that Schwarzenegger would veto it if that office was put in.

    Needing the signature, we left him out.

    So, in short, the only elected official in California that can legally bribe (promise to sign your bill or even appoint you to a commission that pays a salary when you term out for a vote he wants), or extort you (promise to veto a bill of yours if you don’t vote on another bill he wants) for a vote is the governor.

    Having witnessed Schwarzenegger at the end of his term – I should have included the chief executive and gone for a veto override.

    Comment by Jim Battin — 5.03.2012 @ 4:56 pm

  3. Greg,

    I recommend your readers go to Article 4, Section 15 of California’s Constitution (as amended by the State’s voters in November 1974) which states: “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

    Comment by Trent Hager — 5.03.2012 @ 6:00 pm

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