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If someone knows an American politician that is currently holding office well enough that they could schedule a dinner and bring a guest, is it legal for them to offer to set up a meeting with the politician for money?

I'm assuming that the politician doesn't receive any of the money and is unaware of the exchange and is only aware that so-and-so is coming to dinner.

Let's assume the politician and the bribe-taker are just friends, so we're just considering the most general case.

  • Assuming that the politician is a) an adult and b) not an slave, it is difficult how you can "sell" access to him. I mean, if the politician takes some measure because of that meeting, the responsability of that decission lies entirely on the political and not on the friend who organized the meeting (although the person requesting the meeting might be affect by lobby regulation rules). You do not "sell" something that you do not have. – SJuan76 Oct 19 at 20:28
  • @SJuan76, in this situation the bribe-taker is not so much selling the meeting with the politician so much as they are selling their attempt to arrange it. They are providing a valuable service to the briber, and if the politician doesn't say "yes" to dinner, it's between the briber and bribe-taker to decide if a partial or total refund is due. – delial Oct 19 at 21:38
  • Why do you believe that making the question about a friend (vs a family member) makes it "more general?" It's conceivable that a law can prohibit such an occurrence for a family member and that the same law may remain silent on, or just treat differently, any citizen who is not a family member. – grovkin Oct 21 at 0:17
  • @grovkin, that's my point exactly. I'd rather consider the case when we have as little qualifications between the 2 parties as necessary to think about the situation. Every extra qualification we add to the situation increases the chance of stepping on some random clause in a law. There could be a law that makes it legal for family members, too. "Is it legal for a family member to sell access to an American politician?" is a separate and substantially different question one could ask in my mind. – delial Oct 21 at 14:05
  • @delial if that is your point, it isn't expressed by calling this description "general". This description is specific rather than general. A general description is the one which encompasses many others. The situation you describe is narrowed to a specific set of circumstances (which excludes other specific circumstances which are also possible). – grovkin Oct 22 at 1:47
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Probably not illegal and definitely not a "bribe" in the sense of criminal bribery (which must involve some official action or refraining from official action).

Access can be legally conditioned on payment of money in many cases, even though it can't be for the politician's personal (as opposed to his or her campaign fund's) benefit. (I don't rule out the possibility that there are some exceptions that are not legal but none come to mind at the moment.)

Arguably the friend arranging the meeting is an unregistered lobbyist and so it might be a technical violation of that law by the unregistered lobbyist, and that technicality, if present, might render the contract unenforceable by either party in a court of law. But assuming that this takes place in a jurisdiction that doesn't require lobbyists to register it probably isn't illegal, and assuming that the payment is made and the access is given without complaint, the legality of the contract is irrelevant.

As a practical matter, this kind of access for money is usually done as a campaign contribution incentive by the candidate or an affiliated campaign fundraising entity. Lobbyists who try to arrange contacts with politicians usually work on flat monthly retainers in exchange for their best efforts, rather than on a fee for service basis.

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    Yes. The OP has identified a scheme known in the United States as "political fundraising." – bdb484 Oct 19 at 23:22
  • @bdb484 The scheme identified in the OP is actually not political fundraising, but most access for money schemes are, and the lack of anyone having personal gain except as a campaign vendor, makes it somewhat less odious than a third-party selling access for personal gain. – ohwilleke Oct 19 at 23:29
  • The politician's lack of knowledge is different than the usual case, but this otherwise doesn't seem any different to me than a president holding a fundraiser for a governor's campaign or vice versa. – bdb484 Oct 19 at 23:31
  • @bdb484 The difference is that usually the money raised helps the candidate to whom access is granted. In this case, it is for the personal benefit of the friend. – ohwilleke Oct 19 at 23:34
  • Isn't that the same thing? Trump supports Lindsey Graham. Graham asks Trump to headline a fundraiser. Guests give Graham money for access to Trump. – bdb484 Oct 19 at 23:40

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