(Hans A. von Spakovsky) – Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., may have beaten back challenger Sharron Angle and retained his post as the majority leader, but his campaign and one of his biggest supporters may have violated federal law to do so.
As National Review reported earlier this week, the Reid campaign sent a desperate e-mail to the senior vice president for government relations at Harrah’s Casinos asking the company to pressure its employees to get out and vote for Reid. The campaign even offered to have Reid call Harrah’s executives to help give “the backing” needed to get the company working on this.
The Reid staffer involved told Harrah’s it needed to “put a headlock” on its supervisors “to get them to follow through.”
This plea was distributed to senior executives throughout the company by a Harrah’s vice president, Marybel Batjer. Batjer demanded that those executives “do whatever we need to do to get the supervisors to know that there is NOTHING more important than to get employees out to vote. Waking up to a defeat of Harry Reid Nov 3rd will be devastating for our industry’s future.”
Harrah’s did just that, getting headcounts and insisting that supervisors explain why their employees had not yet voted. They also coordinated with employee unions to get buses and shuttles to take the employees to the polls.
None of this should be excused as just “politics as usual.” Both the Reid campaign and Harrah’s may have violated federal campaign finance law that prohibits in-kind corporate and union contributions to, and coordination with, political campaigns. Corporations and unions may spend money to run ads in support of or opposing a candidate, but they are not allowed to make direct or in-kind contributions to federal candidates.
Federal criminal law also prohibits intimidation and coercion of a person exercising his or her right to vote (or not to vote).
If a corporation or union spends money to support the election of a candidate in response to a request by that federal candidate (that is, if they make a coordinated expenditure), as clearly occurred in this case, then they are making an illegal contribution to the candidate.
This was not a situation where a corporation was simply encouraging its employees to go to the polls and vote for their candidate of choice — Harrah’s was telling its employees how important it was to elect Reid, setting up a whole system to coerce its employees to vote, even making records of who had not voted.
Both Harrah’s and the unions spend money, in terms of supervisor and employee resources on company time, and the cost of shuttles, etc., not merely in a nonpartisan way to get out the vote, but to facilitate votes for Reid.
Moreover, 18 U.S.C. ¤ 594 makes it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten or coerce, “or attempt to intimidate, threaten or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for or not to vote for, any candidate for office of … the Senate.”
Harrah’s executives were apparently threatening employees who had not voted, and were coercing them to vote for a particular senatorial candidate. The obvious implication for anyone receiving these Harrah’s e-mails or having a “headlock” put on them was possible reprisals and adverse employment consequences if they did not cooperate in getting out the vote (and vote) for Reid.
The Justice Department’s handbook on election crimes for prosecutors makes clear that it is criminal to engage in “conduct intended to force prospective voters to vote against their preferences, or refrain from voting, through activity reasonably calculated to instill some form of fear.”
Campaign finance violations are generally investigated by the Federal Election Commission as civil matters. But intentional and knowing violations are criminal violations, which are prosecuted by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department.
It is difficult to believe that neither Reid’s staffer nor Harrah’s senior vice president for government relations (its lobbyist), would not know that their coordination and in-kind contributions were highly illegal.
So the question is this — will the Holder Justice Department open up an investigation into what seems to have been blatant violations of federal law? Or will the administration make the same type of political decision that it has made in numerous other cases, including the New Black Panther Party?
If it fails to investigate, it will be telling the country that as long as you are an important political ally of the president, you need have no worry about violating federal law.
(Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org) and a former Federal Election Commission commissioner and Justice Department official. This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.)