and a legal watchdog group have asked Attorney
General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) to investigate
allegations that Republicans offered a House member
$100,000 in contributions for his son's election
campaign if he would vote for a Medicare prescription
drug benefit passed by Congress last month.
an offer could be interpreted as a bribe that
violates federal law, Democrats and outside legal
experts said. Ashcroft spokesman Mark Corallo
said Thursday that the attorney general's office
will review a letter requesting an investigation
from Democratic National Committee (news - web
sites) Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility
and Ethics in Washington, a non-partisan legal
watchdog group, also wrote Ashcroft demanding
an investigation. "The attempted bribery and extortion
of a member of Congress on the House floor destroys
the heart of our democracy," she wrote.
lobbying for support is common during close votes,
the Republicans' successful effort in the wee
hours of Nov. 22 stands out for several reasons.
GOP leaders held the vote open for nearly three
hours. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who customarily
leaves partisan arm-twisting to others, was actively
involved. So was Tommy Thompson, President Bush
(news - web sites)'s secretary of Health and Human
Services (news - web sites), even though Cabinet
members seldom enter the House or Senate chambers.
reports have alleged that an undisclosed Republican
told Rep. Nick Smith (news, bio, voting record),
R-Mich., that if he voted for the bill, business
interests would contribute $100,000 to help his
son, Brad, succeed him. Smith is not seeking re-election
in 2004. His son is one of several Republican
candidates running for the seat.
only was this bribe offered to a member of Congress,
it was offered on the floor of the House of Representatives
by another member of Congress," McAuliffe wrote
allegation was first reported Nov. 27 by syndicated
columnist Robert Novak. Kurt Schmautz, head of
Smith's congressional staff, said Smith confirmed
Novak's account as "basically accurate." He said
Smith had no further comment.
Smith said he did not believe a dollar amount
was mentioned. He said his father was told "there's
an opportunity for substantial support for your
son" if he voted for the bill. He refused to say
who made the offer but said his father didn't
regard it as a bribe.
younger Smith said the incident has "backfired"
in his district. "A lot of primary voters are
disgusted with the hardball politics in Washington,"
did not support the bill. It passed, 220-215,
after GOP leaders spent almost three hours rounding
up votes. Smith was among a group of conservatives
who opposed the 10-year, $400 billion bill because
they feared it would cost even more in the future.
The bill was a priority of the Bush administration
and Republican leaders. The Senate approved it,
54-44, Nov. 25. Bush plans to sign it into law
the House vote, others have urged Smith to say
who offered the $100,000 in campaign contributions.
In an online column on Slate.com, Timothy Noah
wrote, "Stop protecting him, congressman!"
told Gannett News Service on Nov. 24 that he had
been lobbied heavily to support the bill. He said
he had received promises that business interests
and GOP leaders would help his son's campaign
in exchange. He said he also was told those same
groups would work to defeat his son if Smith voted
against the bill.
tactics are customary in the House when votes
are needed to pass legislation. But they more
often involve promises of plum committee assignments,
visits to districts for campaign help or specific
additions to legislation.
Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public
Integrity, a public-interest research group, said
such an episode would be "a revealing vignette."
a window into how politics works, and how closely
tethered contributors are to their respective
parties, and how they work hand in hand in getting
their way legislatively," Lewis said.
said there was little chance the Justice Department
(news - web sites) or the House ethics committee
would investigate. In the House, Democrats and
Republicans have an unspoken agreement not to
initiate ethics inquiries, and only a member's
request can trigger a committee investigation.
House Democratic leaders avoided comment on Smith's
Enterprise (news - web sites) Institute political
analyst Norman Ornstein said that if the reports
are true, the incident "cuts across a whole series
of lines." He said Thompson's presence and Hastert's
lobbying were highly unusual. "I've never heard
of anything like this on the floor," Ornstein
said. "It just stains the speakership."
said an inducement of campaign money "is by every
standard a violation of the law." But he added,
"Will anything be done about it? I'm very skeptical."
Posted: December 5, 2003