It was big news in Alabama Thursday when federal prosecutors in Montgomery suffered a humiliating defeat in a public corruption trial. A jury returned not guilty verdicts on many of the charges, but were split on the remainder. There wasn’t a single guilty verdict.
It was a mix of gambling industry tycoons — including Milton McGregor, the guy on the right in this picture — plus state legislators and lobbyists who were accused of trying to give bribes or take bribes to influence legislation that would have legalized new forms of gambling in the state. (The legislation had passed one chamber of the Legislature, but the arrests spooked the politicians and the bill died.)
During the trial, federal prosecutors played tapes of conversations in which politicians, businessmen and lobbyists talked about what it would take to get the bill passed. The lobbyists and gambling people promised campaign contributions to legislators who supported their position.
But here’s the big question. If you can show that certain people wanted legislation passed and were willing to give money to support the politicians who were favorable to what they wanted, how is that any different from anything else in politics? Do people think that campaign contributions are given out of the goodness of people’s hearts? Of course not. Contributions are made to candidates who support whatever you want, whether you’re a business or union or representative of any other narrow interest. How else would you expect people to decide who to contribute to?
I’m not saying that I don’t believe the gambling industry was buying votes. I’m merely saying that’s the way the majoritarian system works.
After the verdict Thursday afternoon, I got an email from someone I’ve worked with in politics in the past. He said:
“…[N]one of the bingo boys did anything different from any other interest group. They were giving money to people who supported their cause and threatened to run [candidates] against ones who didn’t. The Eagle Forum [a religious right group] does the same thing, as does every other special interest group. If they sent Milton [McGregor, the biggest gambling figure] to jail, they would have to send the heads of ALFA [farmers lobbying group], BCA [state business interests], AEA [state teacher union], and Eagle Forum down the river, too. The entire system works like that.”
I understand that people don’t want to accept this, but the entire system is about special interests competing with one another for control over the money and power that the state claims over us. The one that uses its money and membership numbers most effectively to get favorable legislators (and presidents and members of Congress) elected is the one that wins the right to control your life. That’s the truth.
For me, this realization many years ago was among the first steps toward giving up on the majoritarian system. The second step was to realize that it’s impossible to end the corruption. The third step was to realize that if the state didn’t have the power to grant favors to special groups and hurt other groups, the incentive to bribe anybody would be gone.
The key isn’t stopping people from using their own money and time to get people elected. The key is to take away the power of those people elected to control people’s lives. That was what originally led me to become a libertarian. (I’ve moved quite a ways down the road past that by now, but it’s the realization that started the process for me.)
What these gambling industry types in Alabama were doing was absolutely vote-buying, but that’s what every serious campaign contribution is. (It’s also what groups with a lot of members do when they promise votes to candidates and threaten other politicians with having their members vote against them.)
The coercive state is going to collapse. But if you want to understand in the meantime why the two mainstream parties are so corrupt and why taking power away from the state is the only way to end corruption, think about this.
These gambling figures and legislators agreed to deals to support gambling in exchange for votes — but as my friend said Thursday, “The entire system works like that.” Most people just don’t want to acknowledge what’s going on.