GOP steal an election? It was never that smart

MIKE ROYKO

November 17, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

If it turns out that Republicans stole the governor's election in New Jersey by bribing blacks not to vote, I'll be surprised. I never thought Republicans were that smart.

As a Chicagoan, I've always known that Democrats had made vote-buying a science. I've watched precinct captains, pinky rings glittering, pull out huge rolls to pay ghetto voters on Election Day.

As these voters neared their polling place, they'd be asking: "Where's my money?" And one of the vote-hustlers would press a few dollars into their hands.

When we still had a Skid Row (before the low-rent flop houses were torn down and the drunks were scattered and officially designated as "homeless"), the Democratic Machine's precinct workers would hand out thousands of bottles of old skullpopper to buy the votes of the lushes.

In middle-class neighborhoods, the bribe didn't take the form of cash or booze. It was the favor or the fix.

Voiding a few parking tickets. Shooing away city building inspectors. Getting people out of jury duty. Arranging bond for a rowdy relative. Fixing a driver's test. Or something so modest as the gift of a new garbage can.

Whatever form it took, it still amounted to bribery and vote-buying.

And some ward bosses were so skillful that they could arrange to get whatever size vote they wanted.

One election night, a boss of a West Side tenement ward walked into Democratic headquarters and complained that an over-eager hustler had delivered a precinct by more than 300 to zero.

The ward boss said he had ordered the precinct captain to throw a few votes to the Republican side so they wouldn't be investigated.

I don't remember any national Democrats jumping up and expressing shock or shame that such things were going on. Just the opposite: they viewed Chicago's Machine as a model of what a political organization should be.

Even presidential hopeful George McGovern, the do-gooder who led the drive for political correctness, quotas and other alleged reforms in the Democratic Party, came to Chicago to kiss the late Richard J. Daley's ring. Once he was the candidate, McGovern didn't care how the Machine brought out the vote. He just wanted it.

Now just about every Democrat in Washington is rushing toward TV cameras to express indignation and amazement that someone might spread some money around to hold down the hostile vote.

Members of Congress are demanding that there be a full-blown investigation of what many of them say is -- gasp, shudder, horrors -- bribery.

One after another, they are going on TV to talk about what a terrible sin it is to give someone money to influence an election.

To which I say, hey, where have you guys been?

Maybe they prefer not to notice, but Congress is controlled by Democrats. And they routinely accept what amounts to bribes in exchange for their votes.

Of course, they don't call these transactions bribes. They are campaign contributions from special interest groups and individuals.

But it amounts to the same thing. These groups and influence-seekers aren't tossing the money around because they admire the intellect or haircut of a congressman. They are trying to buy his vote.

If members of Congress can accept large sums -- over a long career it can amount to millions -- why is it so shocking that a few black preachers might have been offered charitable contributions to contain their enthusiasm and that of their flocks for a Democratic candidate in New Jersey?

Congressmen do essentially the same thing. Influence-seekers pay them thousands of dollars to make boring after-dinner speeches. Under a flabby reform rule, they can no longer keep all their speaking fees. But they can give the money to charities.

So many of them spread it around to churches and community organizations in their districts, saying: "Here, you fine folks, I want to make a $10,000 contribution for a new roof for your church."

That's vote buying, and on a large scale, but when a congressman does it, the bribe is legal. Of course. Congress makes the rules.

Actually, what allegedly happened in New Jersey should be praised by anyone who believes in free enterprise and a free market system.

Why should black voters be limited to only those bribes that Democrats offer them? They and any other voters should be permitted to cut the best deal they can get.

And why should Republicans be barred from competing in the vote-buying game? I thought we had laws against monopolistic practices.

True, the Republicans aren't as good at it as the Democrats have been. If they were, they wouldn't be in this New Jersey mess. A Republican campaign manager was so puffed up by the upset victory that he bragged to reporters about how they had paid off the black preachers.

When his casual remarks exploded into headlines, he said, no, no, he was just being a blowhard braggart and it never really happened.

And I believe him. Anybody who is stupid enough to tell reporters that he passed around bribe money is too dumb to have done it in the first place.

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