Justice Dept. to Review Allegations

Posted December 5, 2003 at 4:58pm

The Justice Department will review complaints that Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) was pressured with an attempted bribe to switch his vote on the Medicare bill last month, according to a senior department official.

The Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group headed by former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter, requested a federal probe after news reports suggested that unnamed GOP lawmakers, desperate to switch Smith’s position against the Medicare bill, offered to steer $100,000 to his son’s campaign. Brad Smith (R) is running to represent the 7th district after his father retires.

Acting Deputy Attorney General James Comey, the former top federal prosecutor in New York, told reporters during a press conference Thursday that he had not seen the request for the investigation, but added whenever the department gets such a request, “we read it carefully and then make an evaluation. We will review the letter.”

Under Title 18, Section 201 of the United States Code, a person commits bribery who “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent to influence any official act.”

But bribery prosecutions involving federal campaign donations are scant and the legal guidelines offered by the courts are confusing at best. For his part, Smith appeared to backpedal from earlier reports describing the intense lobbying for his vote.

“I want to make it clear that no member of Congress made an offer of financial assistance for my son’s campaign in exchange for my vote,” Smith said in a statement Thursday. “Some members said they would work against Brad if I voted no.”

But in a Nov. 23 newspaper column, Smith wrote that his own party’s leaders offered bribes. “Bribes and special deals were offered to convince members to vote yes,” Smith wrote.

In an earlier release, he said his only regret about his vote was, “it might have hurt my son.”

“I got significant promises for help for his campaign and threats they’d work against him if I voted no,” he said.

Potter, whose group also filed a request for a House ethics investigation, said, “Reports that $100,000 in campaign contributions were offered as a bribe to influence a legislative vote show how important it is to separate campaign contributions from official Congressional action. It also shows how hard it is to change the culture of a system accustomed to using campaign funds to keep Members in line.”

“The actions that apparently occurred here cross an important line between twisting a Member’s arm and outright attempts to buy a Member’s vote,” Potter added.