After reading this news article and this one I am perplexed. Admittedly, I'm no expert in politics.

But in a free nation, where senators and representatives are elected to represent their constituents, what is the justification or reasoning for allowing elected officials to accept money from corporations that bid for government contracts, or unions that collectively bargain for government contracts?

How is this different from bribery? Is this not trading a form of capital for votes?

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    What the article "forgot" to mention is that these payments from defense contractors are not cash that ends up in legislators' wallets, they are campaign contributions that must not be used for any other purpose. Jul 30, 2013 at 4:16
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    @EugeneSeidel I agree that they left out that crucial point. I fortunately do have enough 'background' to have realized that point. Having said that -- it still seems like bribery to me. Only the payment is in a different color of money. Thoughts?
    – Joe
    Jul 30, 2013 at 4:20
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    It isn't bribery as defined by the criminal code. So if I understand you, you are arguing for a change to campaign-financing laws. As the last major round of such reform was not too long ago (I seem to remember Sen. McCain as one of the principal sponsors) the chances of a fresh restart are rather low, I think. Jul 30, 2013 at 4:24
  • @EugeneSeidel I'm not arguing either way -- I'm inquiring as to how the system got to be this way and why. What were the driving forces?
    – Joe
    Jul 30, 2013 at 5:23
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    I see two driving forces: 1) it's hard to avoid anyway, without a "legal market" there would be a "black market" (which could be worse). 2) Those who make the laws like money.
    – Trylks
    Jul 30, 2013 at 8:58

4 Answers 4


Elected Officials may not accept campaign contributions from corporations.

How the system got to be this way and why. What were the driving forces?

It all began in 1907 with theTillman Act, Teddy Roosevelt stated in his annual address before Congress:

All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders' money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts. Not only should both the National and the several State Legislatures forbid any officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election, but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.

The Act didn't have any teeth, because it lacked penalties and an enforcement method. Congress would later pass the Federal Corrupt Practices Act

The 1910 Act established campaign spending limits for political parties in House general elections. It was the first federal law to establish public disclosure of financial spending by political parties (but not candidates) by requiring the national committees of political parties to file post-election reports regarding their contributions to individual candidates and their own individual expenditures. However, the 1910 Act only covered single-state political parties and election committees, carried few penalties and was rarely enforced.

The FCPA was repealed when the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act was passed. It was amended several times. It established the Federal Election Commission and increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions.

Corporations are currently prohibited from making campaign contributions.

Corporations, Labor Organizations and National Banks

Contributions made from the treasuries of corporations, labor organizations and national banks are prohibited. Additionally, national banks and federally chartered corporations may not make contributions in connection with any election, including state and local elections. Contributions may, however, be made from separate segregated funds (also called political action committees or PACs) established by corporations, labor organizations, national banks, and incorporated membership organizations. 11 CFR 114.2 and 114.5.

Political Action Committees have First Amendment rights (see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

As for how this is different than bribery, it would require that the campaign contribution was given to the government official with the promise to influence an official act; aid in committing fraud; or for them to omit doing their lawful duty.

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    Ya, not only did sfgate.com misleadingly say that legislators got money as if it were for their own personal use, they also said that it came from "defense contractors". But since that would be illegal it must have come from private individuals associated with these companies or from Political Action Committees (PACs) sponsored by them. As long as the info is available and everything is transparent, I don't see a big problem. Perhaps ballots should list candidates' primary $ponsors, too. So instead of John Doe (D-IL), you'd get John Doe (D-IL, AFL/CIO), or Jane Smith (R-General Dynamics). Jul 30, 2013 at 16:36
  • @EugeneSeidel I like that idea! Campaign trail busses would have to be marked up like a NASCAR vehicle!
    – user1530
    Jul 31, 2013 at 14:36
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    "contribution was given to the government official with the promise to influence an official act" if I were to give some money to a bouncer to let me into a club, I'm not going to ask "do you promise to let me in if I give you this money?" But surely, we both know what's going on. Jul 13, 2017 at 12:41

Whenever you hear about "politicians receiving money from corporations" It almost always refers to campaign contributions rather than personal gifts.

Both taking personal gifts and using campaign funds as personal funds are illegal, and numerous politicians have faced legal troubles for doing such things(like Ted Stevens)


The justification is likely personal and wide ranging across the political spectrum.

That said, in general:

senators and representatives are elected to represent their constituents

which includes business owners and industry leaders.

How is this different from bribery?

The details. Bribery is illegal. Campaign contributions are not. Fine line, perhaps.


The text of the question is specifically about American political structures, but the title is more general. Internationally and historically, people are/where elected to elected positions for the purpose of and with the intention of acquiring money.

In some systems, part of the reason for election is the expectation of patronage: your elected representative collects money from businesses, and re-distributes it to electoral groups. In other systems, election is just the method by which people are appointed to positions of advantage.

Regarding 'position of advantage'. Samual Pepys, 'father of the civil service', had no expectation that civil service appointees would work for wages: he knew that they took a share of transaction costs. His reform was the demand that all payments and advantages should be public and transparent. A similar demand was eventually made for English trial juries.

The same effective system still exists in some countries, where payments must be made to all people involved in a transaction, sometimes including elected officials. This is subject to corruption, particularly when foreign companies are involved and (1) The foreign company is willing to pay more than the customary payment, (2) The payment is secret.

  • Are you talking elected officials or governments collecting and redistributing the money as there is a big difference between the two.
    – Joe W
    Dec 14, 2022 at 21:52
  • @Joe_W I think I was fairly clear: 'elected positions', 'all people', 'appointees'. Is there some edit I should make?
    – david
    Dec 14, 2022 at 21:55
  • I read elected officials taking money as corruption while governments taking it as part of a government. Are you suggesting they are taking it as part of their duties or taking it because people are giving it to them? When I see elected officials taking money my mind goes to people giving it to them rather then it being something official and part of the government.
    – Joe W
    Dec 14, 2022 at 21:57
  • @Joe_W so now you've learned something: there are and have been systems that are different from your expectations, both in practice and in moral certainties.
    – david
    Dec 14, 2022 at 22:00
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    Not sure I would call giving money for official purposes giving it to an elected official instead I would call it giving it to the government/agency that I am required to. I still think that giving it to an elected official describes corruption/bribery as the money never belongs to them if for official purposes. And this question is asking about taking money for non official purposes such as fundraising for their campaigns.
    – Joe W
    Dec 14, 2022 at 22:03

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