Federal Election Law: What NMI voters and candidates need to know

October 19, 2010

Here is another informative election law article by Alicia G. Limtiaco U.S. Attorney for Guam and the NMI:

(Part Two: Patronage Crimes)

“The cost of the practice of patronage is the restraint it places on freedoms of belief and association. In order to retain their jobs, respondents were required to pledge their political allegiance to the…Party, work for the election of other candidates of the Party, contribute a portion of their wages to the...Party, or obtain the sponsorship of a member of the...Party.... The free functioning of the electoral process also suffers.... Patronage tips the electoral process in favor of the incumbent party, and where the practice’s scope is substantial relative to the size of the electorate, the impact on the process can be significant.” — Justice William Brennan

PATRONAGE — the practice of hiring based on political affiliation instead of merit is sometimes referred to as the “spoils system,” a term derived from New York Senator William Marcy’s infamous quote, “to the victor belong the spoils,” after the 1828 election of President Andrew Jackson, who had removed over 900 government officials — fully 10 percent of the government at the time — to lavishly dole out jobs he had promised his political supporters.

Federal patronage crimes can be grouped into two categories: those that limit political activity based on Federal employment or workplace, and those that limit the activities of those administering Federal programs or receiving Federal benefits.

Limitations on Federal employees and Federal workplaces include:

• No solicitation of political contributions (18 U.S.C. ‘ 602): This statute prohibits a United States Senator or Representative, a candidate for Congress, an officer or employee of the United States, or a person receiving compensation for services from the United States Treasury, from soliciting a contribution from any other such Federal officer or employee with the intent to “influence a Federal election.” Generally, a contribution to “influence a Federal election” would be one directed to a particular candidate for Federal office, or to the candidate’s Party. The statute applies to all officers and employees of the executive, judicial or legislative branches of the government. Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison.

• No making political contributions (18 U.S.C. ‘ 603): Section 603 prohibits any officer or employee of the United States, or a person receiving compensation for services from the United States Treasury, from giving any contribution to any other such officer, employee, or person, or to a U.S. Senator or Representative, if the person who receives the contribution is the donor’s “employer or employing authority.” Like section 602, this section only covers contributions that are intended to influence a federal election.

• Intimidation to secure political contributions (18 U.S.C. ‘ 606): Section 606 prohibits any United States Senator or Representative, Federal officer or employee from discharging, demoting, or promoting another Federal officer or employee for making, or failing to make, a contribution of money or anything else of value. The statute also prohibits threats to discharge or demote Federal officials or employees for failing to make contributions to a favored candidate (or for making contributions to a disfavored candidate), or promises to promote Federal officials or employees who make contributions to a favored candidate or party. Those who violate this statute can be imprisoned for up to three years.

• Coercion of political activity (18 U.S.C. ‘ 610): Section 610 makes it a crime to intimidate, threaten, command or coerce any Federal employee of the executive branch to engage in political activity or to refrain from engaging in political activity, or to attempt to do so. “Political activity” is intentionally defined broadly to include any conduct that is related to voting, campaigning or contributing.

• Solicitation of political contributions on Federal premises (18 U.S.C. ‘ 607): This statute makes it a crime for anyone to solicit or receive political contributions in any room, building or area where Federal employees are engaged in their official duties. Section 607 covers all three branches of the Federal government, and would include such areas as U.S. Post Offices, Courthouses, Congressional offices and Federal office buildings. It also covers solicitations by non-Federal employees in such prohibited areas.

Limitations on those participating in federally funded programs or receiving Federal benefits include:

• No promise of employment or benefit for political activity (18 U.S.C. ‘ 600): Section 600 is one of the two principal statutes — along with section 601 described below — providing for criminal prosecution of corrupt public officials who use government-funded jobs or programs to advance partisan political interests. The statute makes it unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to promise any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, made possible in whole or in part by an Act of Congress, as consideration, favor or reward for any past or future political activity. The political activity includes support for, or opposition to, any candidate or political party in any election. The statute applies to all candidates — Federal, State or local — and to all elections, including general elections, special elections, primary elections, political conventions and caucuses. For example, if any person promised to give a Census job — the U.S. Census provided for by an Act of Congress — to another person in exchange for that person’s support for any candidate or any political party, the person making such a promise could go to prison for up to a year.

• No deprivation of employment or benefit for political contribution (18 U.S.C. ‘ 601): Like section 600 above, section 601 is a tool Federal prosecutors can use to prosecute public officials who dole out government jobs or program benefits to advance a candidate or party, rather than to serve the public interest. The difference between the two sections is that section 601 criminalizes the threat to terminate a Federally funded job or benefit the target of the threat already has; section 600, by contrast, criminalizes the promise of Federally funded jobs or benefits as a reward for political activity in support of a favored candidate or party. For example, if any person threatened to terminate another person from a Federally funded job to punish that person for supporting a candidate or party disfavored by the person making the threat, or for failing to support a favored candidate, that would be a violation of section 601.

• No promise of appointment by a candidate for federal office (18 U.S.C. ‘ 599): This statute prohibits a candidate for any Federal office from promising another person that he or she will be appointed to any public or private position or employment in return for support for his candidacy. For example, if a candidate for Congressional Delegate promised another person that he would be appointed to a public position in return for his support, that could be a crime. It would also apply to situations where the candidate promised to appoint a third person — such as a supporter’s spouse — in return for support.

Anyone with information concerning possible election fraud should contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation and ask to speak with the FBI’s Election Crimes Coordinator, at 322-6934, or AUSA Jim Benedetto, the District Election Officer for the CNMI, at the United States Attorney’s Office in Saipan at 236-2980. All calls are confidential, and any person who retaliates against a witness who has given information to Federal law enforcement authorities is subject to serious criminal penalties.