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WHITE, J., dissenting
will clearly fare better in any future criminal prosecution if he answers the charge of corruption with evidence that he voted contrary to the alleged bargain. Even more compelling is the likelihood that he will not be prosecuted at all if he follows the administration's suggestion and supports the bill. Putting aside the potential for abuse in ill-conceived, mistaken, or false accusations, the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to prevent just such an exercise of executive power. It is no answer to maintain that the potential for abuse does not inhere in a prosecution for a completed bribery transaction where the legislative act has already occurred. A corrupt vote may not be made the object of a criminal prosecution because otherwise the Executive would be armed with power to control the vote in question, if forewarned, or in any event to control other legislative conduct.
All of this comes to naught if the executive may prosecute for a promise to vote though not for the vote itself. The same hazards to legislative independence inhere in the two prosecutions. Bribery is most often carried out by prearrangement; if that part of the transaction may be plucked from its context and made the basis of criminal charges, the Speech or Debate Clause loses its force. It will be small comfort for a Congressman to know that he cannot be prosecuted for his vote, whatever it may be, but he can be prosecuted for an alleged agreement even if he votes contrary to the asserted bargain.
The realities of the American political system, of which the majority fails to take account, render particularly illusory a Speech or Debate Clause distinction between a promise to perform a legislative act and the act itself. Ours is a representative government. Candidates for office engage in heated contests and the victor is he who receives the greatest number of votes from his constituents. These campaigns are run
platforms that include statements of intention and undertakings to promote certain policies. These promises are geared, at least in part, to the interests of the Congressman's constituency. Members of Congress may be legally free from dictation by the voters, but there is a residual conviction that they should have due regard for the interests of their States or districts, if only because on election day a Member is answerable for his conduct.
Serving constituents is a crucial part of a legislator's ongoing duties. Congressmen receive a constant stream of complaints and requests for help or service. Judged by the volume and content of a Congressman's mail, the right to petition is neither theoretical nor ignored. It has never been thought unethical for a Member of Congress whose performance on the job may determine the success of his next campaign not only to listen to the petitions of interest groups in his State or district, which may come from every conceivable group of people, but also to support or oppose legislation serving or threatening those interests.
Against this background a second fact of American political life assumes considerable importance for the purposes of this case. Congressional campaigns are most often financed with contributions from those interested in supporting particular Congressmen and their policies. A legislator must maintain a working relationship with his constituents not only to garner votes to maintain his office but to generate financial support for his campaigns. He must also keep in mind the potential effect of his conduct upon those from whom he has received financial support in the past and those whose help he expects or hopes to have in the next campaign. An expectation or hope of future assistance can arise because constituents have indicated that support will be forthcoming if the Member of Congress champions their point of view.
Financial support may also arrive later from those who approve of a Congressman's conduct and have an expectation it will continue. Thus, mutuality of support between legislator and constituent is inevitable. Constituent contributions to a Congressman and his support of constituent interests will repeatedly coincide in time or closely follow one another. It will be the rare Congressman who never accepts campaign contributions from persons or interests whose view he has supported or will support, by speech making, voting, or bargaining with fellow legislators.
All of this, or most of it, may be wholly within the law and consistent with contemporary standards of political ethics. Nevertheless, the opportunities for an Executive, in whose sole discretion the decision to prosecute rests under the statute before us, to claim that legislative conduct has been sold are obvious and undeniable. These opportunities, inherent in the political process as it now exists, create an enormous potential for executive control of legislative behavior by threats or suggestions of criminal prosecution—precisely the evil that the Speech or Debate Clause was designed to prevent.
Neither the majority opinion nor the statute under which Brewster is charged distinguishes between campaign contributions and payments designed for or put to personal use. To arm the Executive with the power to prosecute for taking political contributions in return for an agreement to introduce or support particular legislation or policies is to vest enormous leverage in the Executive and the courts. Members of Congress may find themselves in the dilemma of being forced to conduct themselves contrary to the interests of those who provide financial support or declining that support. They may also feel constrained to listen less often to the entreaties and demands of potential contributors. The threat of prosecution for supposed missteps that
are difficult to define and fall close to the line of what ordinarily is considered permissible, even necessary, conduct scarcely ensures that legislative independence that is the root of the Speech or Debate Clause.
Even if the statute and this indictment were deemed limited to payments clearly destined for, or actually put to, personal use in exchange for a promise to perform legislative act, the Speech or Debate Clause would still be offended. The potential for executive harassment is not diminished merely because the conduct made criminal is more clearly defined. A Member of Congress becomes vulnerable to abuse each time he makes a promise to a constituent on a matter over which he has some degree of legislative power, and the possibility of harassment can inhibit his exercise of power as well as his relations with constituents. In addition, such a prosecution presents the difficulty of defining when money obtained by a legislator is destined for or has been put to personal use. For the legislator who uses both personal funds and campaign contributions to maintain himself in office, the choice of which to draw upon may have more to do with bookkeeping than bribery; yet any interchange of funds would certainly render his conduct suspect. Even those Members of Congress who keep separate accounts for campaign contributions but retain unrestricted drawing rights would remain open to a charge that the money was in fact for personal use. In both cases, the possibility of a bribery prosecution presents the problem of determining exactly those purposes for which campaign contributions can legitimately be used. The difficulty of drawing workable lines enhances the prospects for executive control and correspondingly diminishes congressional freedom of action.
The majority does not deny the potential for executive control that inheres in sanctioning this prosecution. Instead, it purports to define the problem away by assert
WHITE, J., dissenting
ing that the Speech or Debate Clause reaches only prosecutions for legislative conduct and that a promise to vote for a bill, as distinguished from the vote itself, does not amount to a legislative act. The implication is that a prosecution based upon a corrupt promise no more offends the Speech or Debate Clause than the prosecution of a Congressman for assault, robbery, or murder. The power to prosecute may threaten legislative independence but the Constitution does not for that reason forbid it. I find this unpersuasive.
The fact that the Executive may prosecute Members of Congress for ordinary criminal conduct, which surely he can despite the potential for influencing legislative conduct, cannot itself demonstrate that prosecutions for corrupt promises to perform legislative acts would be equally constitutional. The argument proves too much, for it would as surely authorize prosecutions for the legislative act itself. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference in terms of potential abuse between prosecutions for ordinary crime and those based upon a promise to perform a legislative act. Even the most vocal detractor of Congress could not accurately maintain that the Executive would often have credible basis for accusing a member of Congress of murder, theft, rape, or other such crimes. But the prospects for asserting an arguably valid claim are far wider in scope for an Executive prone to fish in legislative waters and to search for correlations between legislative performance and financial support. The possibilities are indeed endless, as is the potential for abuse.
The majority ignores another vital difference between executive authority to prosecute for ordinary crime and the power to challenge undertakings or conspiracies to corrupt the legislative process. In a prosecution for drunken driving or assault, the manner in which a Congressman performed his legislative tasks is quite irrele