Childers Paid for Votes

Chris Lawrence earlier noted the win by Democrat Travis Childers in a special election to fill the remaining few months of the Mississippi 1st Congressional District seat long held by Republicans. He knows the local dynamics in Mississippi far better than I do, having earned his PhD at Ole Miss, so I’ll defer to his analysis.

It did, however, put me in mind of an NPR report from two days ago describing a Childers campaign event held at a local gas station highlighting the recent rise in prices at the pump. The line that jumped out at me: “The gas was only a buck 25 a gallon, and the campaign was paying the balance of the 3.55 regular price.”

Why isn’t this illegal?

I’m not suggesting that this practice is the reason Childers won, mind you. His margin of victory was substantial. But, surely, we don’t want candidates handing out cash and prizes to potential voters? We decry rich candidates spending millions of their own money on advertising as “trying to buy the election.” Isn’t actually giving money to eligible voters much more problematic?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    I’m not suggesting that this practice is the reason Childers won, mind you. His margin of victory was substantial.

    Are you really suggesting that the only people whose votes would have been swayed by the gesture, are the ones who actually got gas?

  2. Anderson says:

    I think the giveaway sounds tacky, but it’s not different in principle from a campaign event with free food & drink.

    Besides, isn’t giving money to voters what incumbents do? Childers was just demonstrating his qualifications for Congress.

  3. Peter Principle says:

    Man, you conservatives are a bunch of pathetic losers — almost as bad as the Dems back in ’02 and ’04, whining about Diebold and “black box” voting. Why can’t you just accept the fact that the voters (including, apparently, even the neo-Confederates) have had enough of your sorry asses?

  4. James Joyner says:

    almost as bad as the Dems back in ’02 and ’04, whining about Diebold and “black box” voting

    I specifically stated in the very short post that I don’t think this accounted for Childers’ win. I merely think the practice itself is questionable.

  5. Mithras says:

    Joyner-
    As Anderson notes, campaigns hold events which give voters free food and drink all the time. Is that materially different, in your mind, than giving away free gas?

  6. Anderson says:

    I think Childers could’ve done it even better — charged people the price of a gallon of gas when Bush became president, and paid the difference.

  7. sam says:

    Somebody, maybe it was Chris Lawrence, referred to this as a “dirty trick” — and then it occurred to me that a dirty trick in politics is something your opponent thought of before you did…

  8. sam says:

    Well, it wasn’t Chris and it wasn’t this instance. It was something I saw in passing on Instapundit. Still stand by what I said about “dirty tricks”.

  9. James Joyner says:

    As Anderson notes, campaigns hold events which give voters free food and drink all the time. Is that materially different, in your mind, than giving away free gas?

    Yes. In the first instance, it’s pretty typical to get fed when someone is entertaining you. People don’t typically feel like they’ve received some great value if they’re getting a BBQ sandwich and a beer. Free gas, though, strikes me more along the lines of a bribe.

  10. floyd says:

    It’s not illegal because there is no quid pro quo.
    I’d rather have them buy gas to fuel my car than buy media time to fuel the deception.
    We have candidates spending hundreds of millions of dollars to say NOTHING more than sound bite platitudes. The voter can only speculate what those really mean.
    This method might even be environmentally sound since your car emits less CO2 than the average politician giving a stump speech.

  11. Mithras says:

    People don’t typically feel like they’ve received some great value if they’re getting a BBQ sandwich and a beer. Free gas, though, strikes me more along the lines of a bribe.

    I understand your visceral reaction, but from a legal standpoint, both food and gas are things of value. The overall dollar value of giving someone free barbecue and beer is probably roughly equivalent to giving them a subsidized tank of gas.

  12. Len says:

    Isn’t actually giving money to eligible voters much more problematic?

    You mean like the proposed federal gas tax holiday?

  13. James Joyner says:

    You mean like the proposed federal gas tax holiday?

    I oppose the holiday but letting people keep their own money and giving them yours is decidedly not the same thing.

  14. Mithras says:

    Or a $600 income tax rebate check to people who didn’t pay $600 in income taxes?

  15. I once wrote a research paper in grad school about some aspect of southeast Asian politics (either the Philippines or Thailand, can’t remember which) arguing in part that outright vote-buying should be legal, so I doubt I would refer to this or “street money,” which seems even more like vote-buying, as a “dirty trick.”

    I am surprised that it’s legal, but then again I thought “street money” was illegal too. More fodder for my campaign finance lecture in American government in the fall!