Paying for a specific vote should be a no go

I’ve got an idea. Let’s contact right-leaning individuals across the country and take their credit card number. Have everyone authorize a charge of $20.20, which will only be swiped if, and only if, Sen. Susan Collins votes in favor of Brett Kavanaugh. If she does, all that money will be donated to her campaign — we can raise over $1 million.

What do you think? A contribution of money in direct exchange for a specific vote. Seems like a great idea, no?

No! It is an awful idea. And it doesn’t get any better if you flip it from a promise to donate to a threat of directly funding an opponent.

However, this is the world we are living in today. Collins has yet to decide how she will vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. So a New York-based left-wing organization decided to lead an online effort to “encourage” her to vote the way they want.

Sen. Susan Collins meets with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at her office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Aug. 21. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

It is yet another example of an out-of-state group attempting to tell Mainers what we should do. It happened with the Humane Society of the United States bear hunting referendum. It happened with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown gun measure, as well as Shawn Scott’s casino gambit. This time, the Mainer in question just happens to be our senior U.S. senator.

While the groups organizing this current effort may protest, ask yourself a question. If the AFL-CIO called for a sitting senator vote a certain way (or else!), threatening to spend $1 million against them, would you consider that extortion? If the NRA demanded a representative oppose a certain gun bill and, if not, they publicly declared they would throw millions to that person’s opponent based solely on that one specific vote, would it be bribery?

They are interesting thought experiments. As a matter of law, each is an open legal question. As a matter of practice, both are unhealthy development in our democracy.  After all, neither unions or firearms groups have magical money trees. Both collect dollars from their supporters, and then spend those dollars advocating for their preferred policy position.

The explicit, unabashed quid pro quo attempting to coerce Collins would be appropriately decried if any other interest group tendered it. So what is the difference?

Those attempting to put pressure upon her claim it is merely a reflection of outrage against a federal judge deemed unworthy to hold a Supreme Court seat. Fine. But who are those outraged and promising money? We don’t know. Campaign finance disclosure laws do not govern these “pledges,” for lack of a better word.

That is where the analogy of the self-described “progressive” groups fail. They point to Collins’ campaign finance reports, attempting to draw an equivalency. But those reports lay bare to anyone who exactly her financial supporters are. Eyes open. What do they show? She’s supported by numerous different groups, as well as many Mainers. If that is the data that sways your vote, so be it.

But who are the donors to the campaign threatening to support the eventual Democrat if, and only if, Collins votes in favor of Kavanaugh? We don’t know. They claim there are over 30,000 individuals. Accepting them at their word, how many are from Maine? How many are from elsewhere? Are there specific large donors? We don’t know.

It is dangerous for the republic when dollars are explicitly, and prospectively, tied to a single vote. There are plenty of Republicans who would take issue with Collins’ votes over the years yet, on the balance, choose to support her — both financially and with their ballot — in an exercise of discretion. Others may reach a different conclusion, looking at her decisions and deciding her opponent more closely aligns with their values.

There are plenty of Mainers who oppose Kavanaugh; they should respectfully express their opinion to their federal representatives. Those voices should be considered by our elected officials, as should the voices of those who support the nomination. Yet we hire — elect — individuals to dive deeply into policy questions and ultimately make the best choice as they see it. If we think they are wrong, we each get a chance to vote that official out at the next election. And weighing the totality of their decisions, we can decide whether or not to open our wallets.

But that ultimate choice should come after the congressional vote is cast with the benefit of all information available at that time. Whether it is one dollar or one million, no elected official should be faced with a preemptive quid pro quo. It is simply a bad idea.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.