The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The ABCs of Buying Elections

The midterm season has only just started, but interested parties have wasted no time in flinging accusations of election buying at every close election. There's no doubt that a monumental sum of cash is being dropped in elections big and small. There's also no doubt that accusations of purchasing votes are nothing new. It's been happening for so long it's hard to see it as anything but American tradition -- albeit a less than noble one. Below find some snippets from the annals of election buying -- or at least election-buying blaming.


"Adams County Vote Buyers and Sellers" (1915): "It became known about West Union this afternoon that a small army of magazine writers are coming to this city to 'write up' Adams County and the election scandal disclosed the past three weeks. Several prominent men of West Union, all of whom have been found guilty of buying votes or selling votes, stated that if the magazine men come they will be coated with tar and feathers and put outside the county."

Adelson, Sheldon (2012): "Smash cut to the night of Nov. 6, and Rove’s meltdown of disbelief as Fox News called the election for Obama. His shock must’ve registered on seismographs around the world. After so long away from discernible reality; after years of taking checks from billionaires in the smoking lounge of the History’s Actors Club on the assumption that the purest application of GOP theology — simply buying the election — would correct the fluke of Obama, he had failed to see that’s not how the world works anymore. So he lacked the tools to cope when the reality-based community burst his bubble, and then his world. Our own Sheldon Adelson was one of those billionaires upon whom Rove suckled."


Bloomberg, Michael (2001): "Mr. Green's campaign manager, Richard Schrader, accused Mr. Bloomberg of buying the election. 'He bought it fair and square, and by spending an historic amount on television ads he controlled the airwaves and altered people's perception of reality,' Mr. Schrader said."

Byrne, Brendan T. (1973): "'He's ahead, make no mistake about it,' Mr. Sandman said. 'Just how far ahead I don't know.' Mr. Sandman said that Mr. Byrne was 'buying the election' by spending up to $20,000 a day for television time. 'He's on TV so much it's getting monotonous,' he said, but he acknowledged that 'TV has taken its toll.'"


Corzine, Jon (2000): "So why is he a serious contender? Because Democratic leaders and consultants see him as a political version of the dot-com bubble company. The dot-com bubble swelled on the notion that no matter how bad the idea is, if you throw enough money at it, it can win. (And if it doesn't, it's not your money anyway.) Throwing money has been Corzine's strategy. He cadillac-ed up with the finest political consultants: TV ad maestro Bob Shrum and pollster Doug Schoen, among others. He bought votes where he could: He greased the county Democratic organizations with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, which won him the support of political machines and prime placement on ballots."

Clark, William Andrews (1899):  "In 1899 Clark simply tried to buy the Legislature. More than one 19th-century senator had done so, including a couple who represented Nevada, but Clark got caught red-handed when a legislator dumped $30,000 before his fellow members and declared it had been advanced to him and three others for their votes. Members called for a grand jury. Clark was able to explain away even this steaming, stinking evidence, claiming the money had been planted by Daly to discredit him. The men he had bought regained their nerve, if not their ethics, and elected Clark senator. His closest political adviser, however, was convicted of bribery."


Democrats (1960): "I will say on all fronts the finances have been very slim,' Mr. Burton said. 'As far as the money is concerned the Democrats have us swamped. If there's any such thing as buying an election, the Democrats are trying. I went so far as to have a coffin painted black with 'Civil Rights' lettered across the sides and a sign over it, 'Murdered by the Democrats.' I've been looking for the means to get the display on the streets, but so far I haven't found it.'"


Everybody in Maine (1880): "A Democratic editor of this town with whom I talked today, sadly admitted that Maine was full of purchasable votes. There is many a place, he reported, where men can be bought up at so much a head, and the price is not high either. A dollar often fetches them, but frequently a pair of trousers, a coat, a pair of boots, or a hat does the business. Another well-informed politician told of a case in which the Democratic candidates for the legislature gave a man a pair of pantaloons a few days before the election. Approaching the polls in his new clothes, the voter was questioned as to his choice by a suspicious Democrat. 'I'm going Republican this time,' was the dogged reply. 'What, with those Democratic trousers on?' rejoined the Democratic solicitor, thinking that a hint that he was in the secret would be enough. 'Yes,' said the free citizen of Maine: 'mebbe you don't know the coat is Republican, and it's the best part of the suit.'"


Forbes, Steve (1999):  "It is, in other words, an all-American experiment in filling buses, tossing a kick-butt party and legally buying an election. Perfectly tailored for the well-heeled Forbes campaign, with its flock upon flock of advance kids, spokesmen, consultants, super faxes and computer cameras. Team Forbes is raising a vast air-conditioned tent outside the convention hall in Ames, with "name" country music acts and a couple tons of barbecued ribs. And they're sending buses to every crossroads in Iowa, prepaying individual registration fees, handing out trinkets and doodads by the bucket full. Oh baby! 'Think of it like going to Disneyland in Iowa!' exclaims Steve Grubbs, a former state Republican Party chairman now hawking for Forbes.


Hallum, Hudson (2012): "Hudson Hallum further told Carter that $20 to $40 was too much to pay for one vote, but that this amount was acceptable to pay for the votes of multiple members of a household. On that same date, Hudson Hallum also told Carter, 'We need to use that black limo and buy a couple of cases of some cheap vodka and whiskey to get people to vote.' Two days later, Carter and Kent Hallum spoke with an individual in Memphis, Tennessee about getting a discounted price for the purchase of 100 half pints of vodka for the campaign."

Harris, Katherine (2002): "'The amount of money [Harris] is raising is absolutely obscene,' said Jeanne McElmurray, a former Sarasota commissioner and doyenne of the area's Republican Party, who offered her thoughts between phone calls firming up details for a visit by former first lady Barbara Bush. 'She's not winning the election, she's buying the election.'"

Heinz, H. John (1976): "'He's buying the election,' Mr. Specter said this week after sending Mr. Heinz a telegram asking for a public debate."

Huffington, Michael (1994): "'He's not paid his political dues,' said David Powles, 46, a San Luis Obispo psychiatrist. 'He's buying his way from one office to the next using his father's money. This is craziness.'"


Inferior judge in Rhode Island (1903): "A few years ago one of the Judges of an inferior court in Rhode Island, who was serving in the Legislature, became unpopular in his town, which, by the way, was notoriously corrupt. However, by manipulating the caucus he succeeded against the will of a majority of his own party in the town in securing the nomination. The other political parties in the town, together with the dissatisfied wing of his own party, united forces in support of an opposition candidate and felt confident of success at the polls. On election day, however, the Judge having obtained a sufficient corruption fund (said to have been $700) actually paid it out personally, a few dollars to nearly every elector who voted for him."


Jackson, William H. (1906): "Congressman-elect William H. Jackson of the First District frankly admits his friends spent money to elect him. He declares it is useless to pretend that elections can be carried on the eastern shore without the use of money. 'The voters are out for the boodle,' he continued, 'and they must get it or they won't vote.'"


Kennedy, John F. (1960): "Senator Hugh Scott charged today that 'a good deal' of the family fortune of Senator John F. Kennedy had been used in an attempt to buy votes in the Presidential race."

Koch brothers (2014): "Democrats depict the Kansas-based Koch (pronounced 'Coke') brothers as self-serving oil barons who pay huge sums to try to 'buy' elections and advance their agenda of low taxes and less regulation. And they’re using unusually harsh language in the Senate."


Laufer, Marsha Z. (2005):  "'Mr. Dawidziak said some Republicans criticized Ms. Laufer 'for essentially buying the election' by contributing heavily to the party herself. (Ms. Laufer said she and her husband, Henry Laufer, gave $150,000 to $170,000 to the 2005 campaigns.)' 'But it was her job as leader to raise the money,' Mr. Dawidziak said, "and as a result the Democrats were able to outspend the Republicans and win.'"

Lively, Billy (1931): "Then Stitch told how Billy Lively, a Republican captain who had been defeated year after year, went out one election day, bought $1,000 worth of confederate money and used it to buy votes for his candidates. 'An' that year he won,' Stitch said. 'You had to be smart in those days. ... But it ain't like that no more,' said Louis. He searched the shadows with sad eyes, as if he could see the old torchlight and red parades there, and shook his head. 'Pro'bition an' radio done it,' said Stitch."


"men engaged in 'a particular traffic'" (1889): "There is a remarkable agreement between the Democratic Governor of this State and the Republican Speaker of the Assembly as to the extent and threatening character of the practice of bribery at elections. The Governor assumes that corruption was chiefly practiced at the  late election in the interest of the Republican Party to affect the result of the Presidential election, while the Speaker declares that the saloons dominated the politics of the State, and men engaged in 'a particular traffic,' raised 'untold thousands of dollars for the purpose of buying an election.' Mr. Hill says that 'the recent Presidential election was the most corrupt of any in the history of the country so far as the direct use of money was concerned in influencing the electors,' and that 'so successful have been recent efforts at corrupting the ballot box that good citizens are led to doubt whether the free and unbiased sentiments of the people may not continue to be nullified through corruption whenever and as often as it appears that the interests of the people conflict with those of interested monopolists.'" Mr. Cole says that 'never before in the history of our politics, since our patriot fathers established the Union and consecrated it to freedom, has money played so important, unblushing and corrupt a part in the election of Government officials.'"

Mullen, Arthur (1932): "You Nebraska Democrats,' the Oklahoman shouted, 'have a national committeeman named Arthur Mullen who brought $50,000 here from the East to buy convention delegates for Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, of New York. Well, you can sell out to Roosevelt if you want to, but you'll never elect him.'"


Nixon, Richard (1973): "The presidential election of 1972 was bought and paid for in the coin of carefully disguised but clearly understood White House promises that if the President were re-elected ... white supremacy would ride again."

nobody (1928): "As for buying the election, it has come to be pretty generally agreed that a Presidential election cannot be bought. This view may be countered by the charge that corruption in a close State in a nationally close election could decide the contest by fraud, but the assertion that it is not possible to bring about the choice of a President of the United States by the purchase of votes conforms to the generality of informed opinion. At the same time a profound impression seems to have been created in many American minds by the increasing costs of electing public officers, President not excepted. ... With the cost of each countrywide radio hook-up amounting to $50,000 to $60,000 it is easy to realize that this expense alone will run into large figures. In 1924, the Republican National Committee spent only $53,059 for radio service. That is a mere drop in the bucket of the cost of this year's broadcast."


Obama, Barack (2012): "How many billionaires does it take to buy a presidential election? We're about to find out. The 2012 campaign probably will be a battle between one group of millionaires and billionaires supporting President Obama and another group supporting his GOP rival."

"old, white, rich men" (2012): "Whatever else happens in 2012, it will go down as the Year of the Sugar Daddy. Inflamed by Obama-hatred, awash in self-pity, and empowered by myriad indulgent court and Federal Election Commission rulings, an outsize posse of super-rich white men will spend whatever it takes to have its way with the body politic and, if victorious, with the country itself. Given the advanced age of most of this cohort, 2012 may be seen as the election in which the geezer empire struck back."

Ottinger, Richard L. (1970): "During the primary campaign, Mr. Ottinger's mother lent the bulk of the $1.8 million to committees supporting his primary fight and his opponents charged him with having 'bought the election.'"


Perot, Ross (1992): "In the past Mr. Perot has answered criticism that his wealth gave him an unfair advantage in the Presidential sweepstakes by saying he was 'buying the election for the American people.'"

politiqueras (2014): "In this Rio Grande Valley town of trailer parks and weedy lots eight miles from the Mexico border, people call them runners or politiqueras — the campaign workers who use their network of relatives and friends to deliver votes for their candidates. They travel around town with binders stuffed with the names and addresses of registered voters, driving residents to and from the polls and urging those they bump into at the grocery store to support their candidates."

Pope, Art (2011): "Look at his ads and tell me what's informative about them. They're simply spewing right-wing stuff at voters, saying, 'They raise taxes, they raise taxes, they raise taxes.' Of Pope's spending in 2010, he says, 'It wasn't an education; it was an onslaught. What he's doing is buying elections.'"


Rockefeller, John D. (1976): "Jay Rockefeller, as he is still called everywhere here at the age of 39, is taking care of business. This time there will be no letting down the side. And if some say he is 'buying an election,' Mr. Rockefeller's view is simply that 'we West Virginians have greatness in our future we can achieve it together,' and he is eager to get on with the job."

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1934): "Republican candidates and leaders of the party in the Second District today charged that the Roosevelt Administration 'is buying the Congressional election with taxpayer money.'"

Russell, Henry (1889): "Pierce had one or two redeeming features, but, like Erwin, Coggeshall, Vedder, and Raines on the Republican side, was always on the lookout to defend and support interests of corporations whenever those interested were menaced or needed extension. ... Henry Russell, the flour king of Albany, bought the election two years ago and was counted in by a majority of eight."


Saylers, Michael (2010): "Take Charles Russell, the Kentucky voter who said he sold his vote for $45 in 2010. When Russell got into the voting booth, he realized he couldn’t vote for the man he was supposed to — a candidate for magistrate. Russell didn’t live in the right district. But he pretended. So afterward, he said, he still received an envelope containing cash. 'You didn’t vote for him?' a prosecutor said, as Russell explained all this in court. 'No,' Russell said. 'But he wouldn’t have known that?' 'No.' The candidate, Michael Salyers, testified that he spent close to $500 buying votes. He lost."

Shapp, Milton (1966): "One exception has been the charge by leaders of the Democratic organization that Milton Shapp, a wealthy Philadelphia industrialist, is 'trying to buy' the Democratic party's gubernatorial nomination. ... Mr. Shapp, whoo is 53 years old, has waged a vigorous campaign. He freely admits that he is spending money. 'I've been accused of buying the election,' he said. 'I'm not buying, I'm selling myself. It does cost money.'"

sheriff candidates (1986): "'No one ever believed they'd actually send you to jail just because you paid someone for their vote,' said Wayne Phillips, whose friends call him Cutworm. He runs the general store across from the 98-year-old Clay County Courthouse. 'I can remember times when the candidates stood right up there on the courthouse steps and took bids, just like it was an auction.'"

Steyer, Tom (2013): "Steyer is buying elections for his personal profit, which has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with gaming the market."


three Jerseymen (1908): "William R. Widman, John B. Sears, and Clark W. Hendrickson, all of Yardville, a suburb, were held on $200 bail each last night on the charge of bribing voters at the last election with two-dollar bills and half pints of whisky."


Washington, George (1758): "Voting day was a reason to binge in Colonial times, and the candidate who served up the most hooch often won. Washington biographer Dennis Pogue, vice president of preservation at Washington's home of Mount Vernon, reveals that the father of the nation lost his first campaign in 1755 to the House of Burgesses largely because he didn't put on an alcohol-laden circus at the polls. That year, Washington got 40 votes. The winner, who plied voters with beer, whiskey, rum punch, and wine, got 271 votes. A quick learner, Washington won three years later with the help of alcohol. 'What do you know, he was successful and got 331 votes,' says Pogue, author of the new book Founding Spirits: George Washington and the Beginnings of the American Whiskey Industry." ("Washington's 1758 election to the House of Burgesses cost him 39 pounds, 6 shillings, a sum, which bought him 'a hogshead and a barrel of punch, thirty-five gallons of wine, forty-three gallons of strong beer, cider, and dinner for his friends.'")

women (1915): "WARRANTS FOR WOMEN: Accused of Joining Men in Buying Votes in Illinois town."

Woonsocket Investment Co. (1890): "WIC’s executives initially asked the town of Huron for land grants, hopeful that the local government would realize that WIC stockholders would then have a strong incentive to vote for Huron in the plebiscite. After being rebuffed there, they solicited Pierre, which wisely granted the company a number of city lots. Realizing that the value of those lots would increase if Pierre won, WIC’s thousands of stockholders turned out en masse, clinching the election for the tiny hamlet on the big river in 1889, the year South Dakota officially became a state. The following year, with taxpayer resources already sunk into Pierre, and WIC stockholders still eager to boost the isolated outpost for their own gain, Huron lost the election to be the permanent capital, too."


"Possible 2016 race hangs in the air as Jeb Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton share billing" -- Phillip Rucker, The Washington Post

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