“Super PAC Contributions Can Be Considered Bribes: Judge”

Paul Blumenthal for HuffPo:

A district court judge on Monday dismissed four corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his donor Salomon Melgen, but denied motions to toss out other charges including, notably, the senator’s solicitation of contributions for a super PAC.

Lawyers for the senator had asked the court to dismiss charges related to Menendez’s solicitation of $700,000 from Melgen for Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that made independent expenditures to support Menendez’s 2012 reelection.

The basis for dismissal offered by Menendez’s lawyers were the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United and 2013 McCutcheon decisions. Those two cases redefined corruption as only explicit bribery, excluding influence and access. The senator’s lawyers argued that this redefinition of corruption and Citizens United’s declaration that independent expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” provided freedom of speech protections for all “efforts to influence and obtain access to elected officials,” including any campaign contribution.

Judge William Walls disagreed, ruling that the charges related to the super PAC contributions made by a corporation run by Melgen and solicited by Menendez would stand. In his opinion, Walls writes that “the Constitution does not protect an attempt to influence a public official’s acts through improper means.” (Read Walls’ decision here.)

I’m quoted in the article saying that there is no real tension between the logic of Citizens United and this holding.  One can bribe a Senator by promising to give money to the Senator’s mother. Even though the Senator cannot control the mother’s spending, if the Senator subjectively values the money given to the mother then there can be a bribe.

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