Mr. Kent Sorenson was indicted and now has pled guilty in a matter involving falsified campaign finance reports. One campaign paid him to switch his support from another, and the compensation was routed through other vendors to the campaign to conceal money paid for his changed candidate preference. His guilty plea covers the federal reporting violation and the obstruction of justice committed when he denied publicly that he had been paid for his switch in allegiance and asserted that anybody who doubted him could simply consult the campaign’s reports where they would not find any such compensation. As a straightforward reporting offense, Mr. Sorenson’s case is of limited interest. But another question, presented squarely by the comments of the senior FBI official, is whether the criminal laws reach compensated political endorsements that are openly disclosed. Is it true, as this official suggests, that it is a crime to “exploit the political process for personal gain” in this way? Or that it should be?
Assume that someone like Mr. Sorenson had negotiated his change of heart, for a fee, with the understanding that he would be offered a consulting position with the campaign. Maybe he would be paid solely to speak publicly or to deliver media interviews explaining why he moved from supporting one candidate to endorsing the other. Assume, further, that the campaign disclosed this paid consulting arrangement and freely took on the burden of addressing the charge, sure to come, that the switch was devoid of political significance, representing merely a paid endorsement.
On these facts, it may be reasonable to dislike the conduct but not to make it criminal. Aside from cases such as the sale of votes or the willful diversion of campaign finds to personal use, it does not seem that the law is put to proper or effective use in ferreting out instances of improper commercial motive in politics—especially where the motive may be mixed. The politician who pockets campaign funds for personal use cannot expect mercy: the money taken was given for campaign purposes, and he is bound to use it for that purpose alone. But where a campaign openly spends its funds to achieve political aims, and those receiving the money render the service paid for, it would appear that the voter is the best judge of the transaction.