counterpunch | On March 22, organizations led by Charles and David Koch, who have made tens of billions of dollars from the environmentally toxic business that they inherited from their father (Koch Industries), issued a lucrative offer to Republican congressmen: vote against Rep. Paul Ryan’s healthcare bill in exchange for generous 2018 campaign donations. Naturally, the flip-side of their offer was a threat: vote for the bill and we give you nothing.
The two multi-billionaires opposed Ryan/Trumpcare because of their libertarian, Social Darwinist belief that everybody, no matter how poor, is on his/her own and should not receive even the most minimal help from the government. This is an old American story – white plutocrats, deluded into thinking that they are self-made men rather than fantastically lucky beneficiaries of their parents’ wealth, opting to manipulate politicians into helping them keep as much of it as possible – and then helping them make even more to boot.
Aside from the Koch Brothers’ callousness, insatiable greed, and arrogant sense of entitlement, the real story here is that they just committed a serious white-collar crime: bribery. Bribery, as defined in federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 201, includes “directly or indirectly, corruptly giv[ing], offer[ing] or promis[ing] anything of value to any public official . . . with intent to influence any official act . . .”
For our purposes, the most important words in this statute are “offers” and “promises.” Even if the Koch Brothers were now to retract their offer or fail to follow through for any particular politician, they still issued it. In this sense, it’s like attempt or conspiracy. It does not require actual consummation – that is, an actual exchange of money for legislative action.
Many, if not most, Americans, including politicians and journalists, probably believe that this kind of “quid pro quo” – the exchange of a thing of value for an “official act” – though distasteful, is perfectly legal, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. But Citizens United did not legalize bribery. On the contrary, it said that bribery – “quid pro quo corruption” or its appearance – is the one thing that corporations may not engage in; pretty much everything else, including spending anonymous and unlimited “independent expenditures” on political advertisements, is constitutionally permitted. Of course, we know that this bribery still goes on all the time between candidates and Super PACs, but we rarely have hard evidence because they are generally smart enough to do all their bribing behind the scenes, not directly in front of the media like the Koch Brothers just did.