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Emily Holmes Norton (AP)

Andrew Breitbart Exposes How Politicians Raise Cash

Sep 17, 2010

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As many hardcore political news consumers know by now, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart went after another black woman who earned her stripes in the Civil Rights movement this week.

He posted a voicemail Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s delegate in Congress, left for a lobbyist in which she solicited a campaign contribution.

Hundreds of such calls from lawmakers likely occur every month. And that's no doubt an understatement.

Holmes Norton defended herself and others defended the lawmaker by essentially saying everybody does it, accusing Breitbart of once again exploiting information out of context as he did in the Shirley Sherrod case.

It's true that many lawmakers raise cash similarly. But that defense may remind some people over a certain age might be reminded of the line from "Cool Hand Luke": "Calling it your job, don't make it right, Boss."

Still, just because her phone call troubles a lot of people who see it as, at worst, a shakedown or, at best, an uncomfortable reminder of how money drives the political system, even for a non-voting delegate in Congress, it doesn't make it illegal.

As NPR's Peter Overby explained to me in an e-mail:

Briefly, unless the lawmaker is far, far more aggressive than Holmes Norton is on this voicemail, there's no legal violation. By statute and precedent, a campaign contribution cannot be a bribe; and federal law doesn't even come close to barring general conversations linking campaign money and legislative activities.

Finally, even if Holmes Norton made the call from her office, she might be off the hook (as it were) if she used a campaign cellphone. The ban of fundraising in congressional buildings isn't exactly airtight.

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