Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., said in February that he was offered a job in the Obama administration if he’d drop out of his primary against Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.
Some people wonder why Sestak’s allegations matter. After all, isn’t this what all presidents do, cut deals with taxpayer-funded jobs in order to defuse intra-party rivalries? The answer is, maybe they do, but it’s still illegal. Such deals are not usually discussed in public, but this one has been and now its potential illegality matters.
The relevant statutes:
18 USC 600:
Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
18 USC 595 (I include part in boldface to spare the reader all of the law’s fine points):
Whoever, being a person employed in any administrative position by the United States, or by any department or agency thereof, or by the District of Columbia or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or any political subdivision, municipality, or agency thereof, or agency of such political subdivision or municipality (including any corporation owned or controlled by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States or by any such political subdivision, municipality, or agency), in connection with any activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States, or any department or agency thereof, uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Jonah Goldberg asks why, even if it is illegal, this is such a scandal. Don’t presidents do this all the time? It’s a legitimate question. I would answer it first by pointing again to the fact that such deals are not often made public. Sestak has only himself to blame for trying to exploit the offer to increase his own support while he was running against Specter.
Second, I would refer back to the Plame controversy, during which liberals salivated over the opportunity to see Karl Rove frog-marched off the White House grounds in handcuffs. Do you think it would be a scandal if they frog-marched someone off the White House grounds?
People forget this, but the Sestak allegations are part of a pattern. Before anyone knew about Joe Sestak, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina offered Colorado’s Andrew Romanoff, D, an administration job at USAID if he’d drop out of his Senate primary against Sen. Michael Bennet, D. This deal became public thanks to the Denver Post.
At some point, if lawbreaking is established, people might even start asking where Messina and Sestak’s interlocutor took their orders from. As Pat Buchanan put it this morning, Sestak doesn’t want to give details and go up those stairs because he knows where they lead.