Howard Fuller Has the Answer for Ferguson...
As a criminology professor, one of the biggest challenges I face is explaining
the difference between similar yet distinct criminal offenses. When students
struggle, I usually help them with criminal law hypotheticals. For example, when
explaining the difference between bribery and extortion, I tell them to imagine
the following scenario: "A man is pulled over by a State Trooper for driving 100
miles per hour. As the Trooper approaches and asks for his wallet, the man pulls
out a $100 bill and says 'I bet you $100 that you're going to give me a ticket.'
The Trooper smiles, takes the bill, and says 'Nope, you're wrong.'"
After students correctly conclude that the above scenario constitutes bribery, I
give them this scenario: "A different man is pulled over by a State Trooper for
driving 100 miles per hour. As he approaches the vehicle and asks for the man's
wallet, the Trooper looks at him and says 'I bet you $100 that you're not going
to get a ticket today.' The driver smiles, takes out a bill, and says 'I'll take
that bet.' The Trooper takes the bill, says 'Sorry, you lose,' and walks away."
That second scenario is extortion - as opposed to bribery - because the
communication was initiated by the officer and because it contained an implicit
threat. Knowing this distinction is important for criminology students. It is
also important for political science students as it helps foster a greater
understanding of how Washington lawmaking really works. This reality is in stark
contrast to the popular image conveyed by politicians and echoed in the popular
Observers of beltway politics have long been aware of the fact that far more
laws are written than are actually passed. But these observers too often view
this failure to pass bills as incompetence. Nothing could be further from the
truth. By merely threatening to pass laws that increase the size of government,
the drafters encourage lobbying efforts aimed at defeating them. Each law is a
looming threat to some industry - sometimes multiple industries - and can be
rebuffed by campaign contributions from these wealthy lobbies. This means that
each time a bill is passed a tool for fundraising is removed. Or, to put it more
bluntly, an opportunity for extortion is foreclosed.
People often have difficulty understanding why a corporation will give heavily
to both candidates in an election or why they will donate to candidates who face
no opposition. Were extortion not prevalent in politics, such engrained patterns
would not exist. Wall Street firms don't donate to the anti-capitalist candidate
because they like him. They donate to his campaign because they fear him and
think he might actually win regardless of who they actually support.
Of course, political extortion can be subtle. There is an implicit threat
whenever congress passes laws so complex that they can only be understood by
those who wrote them. This explains why so many of those who work as lawmakers
eventually leave their positions to become consultants in the private sector.
The threat of ignoring these consultants is subtle but real. When they offer
their services, they are essentially saying "You may or may not be breaking the
law. Pay me for my services and I'll give you the answer."
If you don't think the consulting racket rises to the level of extortion then
just take a quick look at the definition of extortion from Blackstone’s Law
Dictionary. It defines extortion as "an abuse of public justice, which
consists in any officer's unlawfully taking, by color of his office, from any
man, any money or thing of value, that is not due to him, or more than is due,
or before it is due."
Of course, sometimes extortion isn't so subtle. Richard Nixon was known for
specifically tying the activities of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to his
fundraising activities. The Obama administration does the same thing. Businesses
are often told they are being investigated for possible criminal conduct by the
DOJ. Next they are asked to donate or, even worse, told to hire "consultants" to
assist them in making the problem go away.
The consultant extortion racket has reached unprecedented proportions in the
current administration. After the 2008 election, half a dozen senior DOJ
positions went to individuals who had been campaign bundlers for Barack Obama.
This dirty half-dozen included Eric Holder and others who have dealt directly
with both civil and criminal prosecutions.
But the racket extends far beyond the halls of the DOJ. Anita Dunn served as
Obama's communications director during the president's first term. During her
time in the White House she was an outspoken critic of the hedge fund industry.
Unsurprisingly, she became a consultant upon leaving the White House. The firm
she joined specializes in "corporate communications." Also unsurprisingly, she
helped the firm craft a proposal that went to hedge funds for the ostensible
purpose of helping them boost their image. The proposal offered to develop a
"paid media" campaign that would "raise awareness about the positive role that
hedge funds play in the American economy."
Unbelievable, isn’t it? Dunn organizes an attack against an industry by
leveraging her power as a public official. Then she offers to ward off the
attack she created by using her influence as a paid "consultant." This is what
is known among mobsters as a willfully and deliberately planned protection
racket. As usual, what appears to be improper private influence from the outside
is an outgrowth of the abuse of public justice from the inside.
To be continued ...
Author's Note: this column was written with information from only one source on
the topic. Please see Extortion by Peter Schweizer or pick up your own
Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North
Carolina Wilmington and author of
Letters to a Young Progressive: How To Avoid Wasting
Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand.
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