Two politicians, a Republican, Mike Decker, and a Democrat, Jim Black, sat down at an IHOP in Salisbury. Black was there to convince Decker to switch parties and give him a key vote he needed to hold onto the House Speakership – and Decker was listening. And, in all likelihood both men probably suspected, one way or another, before the deal was made there was going to be an agreement for some money to change hands.
Now, as Gary says in his blog, Jim Black is too smart to say to Mike Decker, ‘Okay, Mike, name your price, we’ll dicker a bit and I’ll send you a bag full of cash for your vote.’ Black knows that’s illegal. So, here’s how I imagine that conversation may have gone:
Black: Mike, I need your vote for Speaker. And I know if you vote for me you’ll be in hot water with the Republicans. I know you’ll face a tough reelection campaign. And I know that costs money. Now, we both know I can’t pay you anything for your vote. That would be illegal. But I do – and this has nothing to do with your vote – want to help you get reelected.
Then, I imagine, after a little hemming and hawing someone got around to putting a dollar amount on the table. Since Decker pled guilty to taking a fifty thousand dollar bribe, let’s say it was fifty thousand dollars.
In January of 2003 Decker switched parties and voted for Black and, according to the US Attorney, an unnamed Democrat – the newspapers speculate it was Black – delivered thirty-eight thousand dollars in checks and twelve thousand dollars in cash to Decker. (Decker’s son also got a $46,000 state job in the legislature, thanks to Black).
So, did Jim Black bribe Mike Decker or not? In Black’s view he absolutely did not. He says adamantly there was no quid pro quo – he didn’t give Decker $50,000 to vote for him. He gave him $50,000 to help him get re-elected. It wasn’t a bribe it was a campaign contribution. And that’s Gary’s point. No matter how much Black wanted to get reelected Speaker he was too smart to break the law by trying to bribe Decker.
But there’s one big problem. Alongside the $38,000 in checks in the envelope a Democrat gave Decker there was $12,000 in cash – and you can’t just blithely wave a magic wand and say that cash doesn’t matter – or that it was a campaign contribution.
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