I’m motivated to try to support a political cause at the local level and realize I don’t understand exactly whether the definition of “bribery” includes various of the things I am contemplating doing. I’d like to communicate to my local representatives that I favor this cause, and that I care enough to vote on this basis and to make campaign contributions. It’s the linkage between the cause and my contributing that I fear constitutes bribery.
I am not proposing trying to contract with a politician that if they agree to vote in a certain way I will give them money. That that is bribery is clear. What I want is for politicians to understand that I really care about the issue. I want to clarify whether my expression of caring should be limited to letter writing and perhaps actually visiting them (as I say this is at the local level) while I separate and do not communicate the fact of my donation, even though in my mind it is a good expression of my level of caring about the cause. FWIW the amount of money I anticipate giving is tens or hundreds of dollars.
Two gleanings from the Wikipedia article on “Bribery”:
“Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty. The bribe is the gift bestowed to influence the recipient’s conduct. It may be any money, good, right in action, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, object of value, advantage, or merely a promise or undertaking to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity.” I think this means that if I tell a politician I contribute to their campaign because they are, for example, progressive, then this is bribery if the politician has a thought process like “my being progressive pleases my constituents enough that they are motivated to donate, and so I should keep being progressive”. But I am surprised that this rises to the level of bribery.
“Politicians receive campaign contributions and other payoffs from powerful corporations, organizations or individuals in return for making choices in the interests of those parties, or in anticipation of favorable policy.” I read this to include donating to the campaign of candidates because I like their positions (I give to somebody because I anticipate they will make policy favorable to my interests, such as for example environmentalism). This surprises me too.
From the Wikipedia article on “Campaign finance”:
“Although the political science literature indicates that most contributors give to support parties or candidates with whom they are already in agreement, there is wide public perception that donors expect illegitimate government favors in return (such as specific legislation being enacted or defeated), so some have come to equate campaign finance with political corruption and bribery.” Getting an illegitimate favor in return for a gift seems much more specific and much dirtier, to me, than telling a politician that I hope they move further in one direction and that I care enough to donate. Am I fooling myself, pretending there is a distinction here when there isn’t?
So, my overall questions, which I hope have factual answers, are:
When I wish to aid my favorite political causes by donating to campaigns of politicians who support those causes, and I want the politicians to know which of their positions motivate me to be a supporter, am I contemplating bribery?
If I donate to politicians who support my favorite causes, and as a separate and unconnected act I also write to them and tell them that as a constituent I favor these causes, never linking the donations to the causes in any of my communications, is that bribery?
Just to be clear, I want to be ethical and am questioning where the ethical line is. I don’t want to stretch the border of legality and don’t think I am asking for legal advice. I’m not asking about a legal definition of “bribery”, but rather an ethical one (or a nuanced English language one). I have no interest at all in doing anything illegal or entering the buffer zone between unethical and illegal.