Monday, April 05, 2004

Insurance Companies Pay Big Fine for Breaking Campaign Finance Law
American Bankers Insurance Company has agreed to pay a million dollar fine for breaking the law in Minnesota. Minnesota bars corporate contributions to political campaigns, but American Bankers allegedly funneled money into the state via an arm of the National Republican Party. They were trying to prevent independent candidate Tim Penny (a former member of Congress known for standing up to private interests) from winning the governor's seat. See the full story here in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. (free registration required.)

There are at least two lessons that citizens can learn from this case:

1) Campaign finance laws can work, especially if they hold individuals responsible. In this case, two corporate executives faced personal fines of up to $20,000 and potential jail time. They decided they'd rather cop a plea and have the company pay $1 million than face personal penalties themselves. This may be a raw deal for their shareholders, but it does at least establish a penalty tough enough to deter future lawbreakers.

2) These donors weren't worried about buying access with a politician, or even supporting one party over the other. They were scared that someone who didn't share their corporate interest agenda would win, and were trying to influence election results with big money. In this case, the big money interests would have been happy with politicians from either the Democratic or Republican Party, both of whom they evidently feel would stand up for their interests. Yet another example of how reform proponents are missing the bigger problems when they focus on access selling or quid pro quo corruption.

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