Perhaps not so surprisingly, Washington politicians on both sides of the aisle are opposed to the recent change by Representative Eric Cantor (R–VA) and the House of Representatives in eliminating the so-called public corruption amendment that was proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D–VT) and John Cornyn (R–TX) and attached to the Senate-passed STOCK Act. The House version (which lacked the Leahy–Cornyn amendment) passed by a whopping 417–2 vote earlier today.
Cantor and the House deserve credit—not blame—for putting good policymaking ahead of their own potential electoral considerations. As The Heritage Foundation has chronicled, the Leahy–Cornyn Amendment attempts to kick to the curb two unanimous Supreme Court decisions regarding bribery and honest services fraud.
The Leahy–Cornyn Amendment would do the following:
- Extend federal jurisdiction to even minor state and local foot-fault violations of state or local reporting laws, some of which might lead to nothing more than an administrative penalty under state law.
- Federalize state and local election law and impose a potential penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
- Make a number of unjustified increases in available terms of imprisonment, which would include making some misdemeanor offenses into federal felonies punishable by up to three years in prison. These changes were proposed without any proffered justification by Congress that the existing sentences were insufficient to deter crime or adequately punish wrongdoers.
Despite proponents’ previous attempts to pass such legislation, many of the potential overcriminalizing effects of the amendment have not been fully examined by Congress. Instead, the Senate decided to attach this amendment—one that wasn’t getting traction on its own—to a popular bill that is in the news every day and that the public generally perceives as a good piece of legislation.
Such a tactic, although convenient for supporters, is a terrible way to change law that can significantly affect individual liberty. In response, the amendment’s proponents now want to demonize those who would dare to come out against something that they misleadingly tout as a good government measure.
It takes courage for politicians to take a stand for good policy when opponents smear them as being against good government. But the public corruption amendment was a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing. Citizens should not be fooled into accepting policies that over-federalize and overcriminalize—even in the name of good government.