Are Political Favors Getting a Bad Name?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gov. Chris Christie arriving at Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich after Gov. Chris Christie arriving at Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

In New Jersey, Chris Christie and his staff face allegations that they punished their political opponents by causing traffic jams and threatening to withold Sandy relief funds. In New York City, new City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is rewarding her allies with plum jobs. So what counts as effective carrot-and-stick politics, and what's crosses the line? Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, and David Plotz, editor of Slate and host of their Political Gabfest, discuss when political favors and punishment can be used to achieve good, and when they turn into corruption.


Brigid Harrison and David Plotz

Comments [46]

Raul5050 from San francisco

I found the entire conversation rather condescending. The conversation begins with a premise that there is a great handwringing form the public, there is not. Most people listening to this program understand how politics work.

Aside from conflating deal making and corruption which you folks seem to do, you completely left out the real world effects that shading dealings have on the people. Remember us?

Influence pedaling and sleazy deals cannot be craved out from the money and growing corporate power in politics.

The reason you have to go back to Johnson for a Presidential example is because is was a rare circumstance and a rare time. It took place at a time when all sorts of back room wheeling dealing was common place.

Instead of lecturing we the listeners about "the real world of politics" perhaps time would be better spent schooling us in the dark and the dank of the Port Authority.

Jan. 27 2014 12:41 PM

The problem with all the "dinner for sex" analogies is that these public resource cases have a "roofie" in the drinks and the bartender (the press), who knows of this chemical seduction, does not disclose that knowledge to anyone, let alone the target, in a timely fashion.

Jan. 24 2014 03:17 PM

Connecting 2 political happenings may have seemed like a good idea, but that doesn't make it so.

Another "ratings game" comparison segment doesn't help the show's audience or the station.

Jan. 24 2014 03:04 PM
Paul from Hoboken

On corruption: I want to push back against that sort of fatalism, the resigned muttering that goes, 'that's just the way it is.' This is always what you used to hear in Greece about corruption, a place where quid pro quos have always been endemic. Look at the country now. My point is that such talk engenders a dangerous complacency and disempowers those willing to fight for what is right. Do we want to throw our hands up in the air and mutter 'that's just the way it is' when discussing dirty politics in New Jersey? We set up a grass-roots organizations and give our few dollars to fight legal battles against big developers and their connected law-firms, firms with titanic budgets and lilliputian ethical standards. So what do we do when we discover the governor himself is holding emergency aid hostage so ram through some ill-advised project for a crony? Do we just say, 'that's the way it is?' I think not.

Jan. 24 2014 12:43 PM

The guests, and possibly Mr. Lehrer, seem to be encouraging agreement with the loathsome principle that allowed the promulgation of the U.S. Constitution, despite its failures to include the promise of the individual liberty principles so majestically outlined in the Declaration of Independence and its failure to explicitly bar the practice of involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for criminal guilt determined by due process. That odious principle would be that to secure the liberty of many, the freedom of the few can be curtailed without their consent. I can't see how anyone could pass through a process of civil reconciliation while holding to such a view.

Indeed the tenor of this discussion completely ignores the that these "grease-the-wheels" efforts are conveniently, by "gentle-persons agreement" with a servile press, conducted outside of public awareness, so long as wheels are "greased" for a purpose that the press agrees with, or fears to interfere with.

The discussion also seems to be aimed at justifying the failure to criticize, or even to publicize, the surreptitious granting of public resources to officials' family members and supporters. Eventually, even the "law" cannot cannot reach these time honored practices
(see e.g., the City council embezzlement schemes, admitted to by Christine Quinn.

(How about a little "journalistic sunshine" on the extent and purpose of
"Billy" Tisch's (and the Tisch Organization's) "support" of, and influence on WNYC? see, 00:55 to 01:06 )

Jan. 24 2014 11:42 AM
Paul from Hoboken

It is a truism that all politician are compromised in some way but we simply cannot accept a culture of casual corruption. Hoboken is small and big development deals have a disproportionate impact on the lives of citizens. A 40 story bulding in the NW would completely change the complexion of the city. The more concrete goes up the more stress on public works - more flooding, more exchange for what- tax abatements for the developers? We vote for the mayor and the city council, we vote for a vision of Hoboken. We fought for parks on the piers on the Southern waterfront. Developers wanted to push buildings up to the water, in essence privatizing the waterfront but ordinary citizens pushed back - and we continue to push back against similar attempts to develop the Northern waterfront. As for Sandy Aid and Christie, citizens of this town have a right to self-determination without the governor selling us out to his cronies.

Jan. 24 2014 11:24 AM

>The difference is certainty versus probability.

So dating is gambling for sex? If a casino had sex gambling it would be raided in about two seconds.

Jan. 24 2014 11:12 AM

@mr nyc

"Give a woman money for sex, and it's prostitution, a crime. But spend a lot of money on her for dinner, it's dating."

The difference is certainty versus probability. The woman you buy dinner for still has a choice. If she *still* chooses the f*ck you, that's her bad luck.

Jan. 24 2014 10:44 AM

The segment summary says: "In New Jersey, Chris Christie and his staff face allegations that they punished their political opponents ..."
I am no fan of the Governor, did not vote for him, do not like him, BUT: words -- and evidence -- matter in law. Brian and the guests' repeated references to the bad actions of recent weeks being 'Christie's' ignore the fact that NO evidence that has come to light (so far, anyway) directly implicates the Gov himself. No doubt, his selection of staff and appointments created the toxic political environment in which these events flourished. But as of this date, we can only accuse him of poor judgement. For anything else, we'll have to wait.

Jan. 24 2014 10:35 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Does motivation make a difference? Not when it means people hurt by a natural disaster are denied the help they need.

Jan. 24 2014 10:33 AM

The Federal Government should only tax an appropriate amount to fund itself or projects deemed absolutely necessary for the country as a whole. Not state museums, local bridges, etc. The states should be paying that. This ever increasing centralized power in money in Washington is leading us down a ever bigger corrupt hole

Jan. 24 2014 10:30 AM
mr nyc

Give a woman money for sex, and it's prostitution, a crime. But spend a lot of money on her for dinner, it's dating.

Jan. 24 2014 10:30 AM
antonio from baySIde

Brian, the reason why Obama can't be LBJ is enough of the extreme GOP hate him!
Come on, I know it's more than that but the GOP is thinking of ''challenging" Lyndsay Graham!!!?
Lyndsay Graham is no Lincoln Chaffee!

The tea party, plus the regular GOP and tack on the moderate republic - er democrats equal a sizable block!

Jan. 24 2014 10:30 AM
Brendan McBryan from Brooklyn

Chris Does not work for the Republican Party, he doesn't even work for Chris Christie. He is an employee of the citizens of New Jersey.

These guests are a joke.

Jan. 24 2014 10:29 AM
Max from Norther NJ

Corruption is corruption, period.

Whether it's payback for lack of political support or twisting arms to gain votes for civil rights, corruption is a threat to democracy.

The beauty of the Bill of Rights is that those rights apply regardless of content. The corrosive rot of corruption exists regardless of the goal of the corrupter.

Jan. 24 2014 10:28 AM

Why doesn't BO break legs LBJ-style??

'Cause he's a damn WEENIE!

… AND WAY farther RIGHT than anyone could have imagined!!

Jan. 24 2014 10:26 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Why isn't the first evaluation, Are these Council committee chairs qualified for their leadership posts? Jimmy van Bramer worked for the Queens public library for 10 years--should he not be chair of the Culture and Libraries committee? Does the Finance chair have the qualifications? I'd like that examined before the allegiances are.

Jan. 24 2014 10:26 AM
Linda P. from NYC

I didn't like the fact that David Plotz's reference to "acceptable political corruption" went unchallenged by either you, Brian Lehrer or you Bridget Harrison. I'm listening now and I guess you're finally getting around to the issue.

Also remember that when people accept "crossing the line," that line will surely continue to recede.

Jan. 24 2014 10:24 AM

Yes, Jennifer!
Bad example, Brian. The water project still had to be voted on no matter what LBJ professed. The Sandy aid did not.

Jan. 24 2014 10:24 AM

You have a lot of goo-goos writing in today.

Jan. 24 2014 10:24 AM
Louise from North Brunswick NJ

What about pay-for-play laws in NJ at the state level? Matt Katz' investigations indicate that Christie got $1.7 M donations for a Sandy=Aid contractor. Was he getting something from the Rockefeller group? Is that pay-for-play?

BTW look at the depth of Christie's political appointments through all depths of state/co8unty/municipal government.

Jan. 24 2014 10:23 AM

These guests are horrible. No more to say about it.

Jan. 24 2014 10:23 AM

Please bring back John the lawyer caller, and ask Mr. Plotz to go home!

Jan. 24 2014 10:22 AM
fuva from harlemworld

The country is in the midst of debilitating political dysfunction.
It is inhibiting our ability to solve critical economic and social problems.
Solution MUST involve increased politician accountability and reconsideration of our expectations and standards here.
This discussion exemplifies why the media/journalists fail us in this effort, as they cannot resist the indoctrination of their insider position (and cushy jobs).

Jan. 24 2014 10:20 AM
Charlie from Manhattan

What about allocating resources based on need as defined by a participatory process involving all the stakeholders and informed by expert assessments?

Jan. 24 2014 10:19 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey


Same reason why Dick Cheney's former employers (Halliburton) got so many no-bid defense contracts. [even though the showers they built occasionally electrocuted a soldier or two!]

Same reason why the celerity and amount of snow removal is so sharply judged one neighborhood against another.

In a time when the electorate is so polarized, red versus blue, the fair and equitable treatment of citizens must be paramount. Any politician who puts party above the people ought to be turned out. If the electorate keeps putting the reins of power into corrupt hands they should not be surprised when their name eventually appears on the sh*t list and their valid needs go unmet.

Jan. 24 2014 10:18 AM
Gloria from Harlem

Viverito also gave a Chair to Garodnick who ran against her and Arroyo who ran a candidate against her seat so the whole premise here is absurd.... it is far more complex

Jan. 24 2014 10:17 AM

City Council posts are totally different than the Christie crimes. Bad on Brian for linking these issues.

There are over 40 posts and almost everyone got something. If half the council members had gotten nothing then it might be a scandal, but these posts were so spread out to all but 4 people.

Jan. 24 2014 10:17 AM
The Truth from Becky

Where are the usual suspects today? Huh? The President hating loud mouths from the Right? SMH

This is how they "play" politics....every now and then someone gets caught! It won't change, they will get more careful..for a while.

Jan. 24 2014 10:17 AM

Ms. Harrison's logic "the bridge did not get in the way of someone's new job" is flawed. When Christie killed the construction of the already- half built Hudson tunnel, thousands of voters were negatively effected. So many New Yorkers bought houses in towns along the Raritan Valley Train Line, for example, which currently has a 55-75 minute NYC commute, which would have been cut by 20 minutes the day the tunnel opened, because the line could skip the horrible Newark transfer.

Yet no revolution -- or even demand for accountability.

At the time residents trusted that Christie was a great negotiator, getting the US govt. to pick up more of the tab. 2 years later and no scandal.

The bridge thing is a story because it's so easy for the press to understand and turn into bite sized pieces. Also, it is not the story of a corrupt system, for a change, so there are a handful of partisan actors daring to speak publicly.

Jan. 24 2014 10:16 AM
Bev from Manhattan

I agree with John, the caller. The Fed gov't gave the money to NJ to dole out to towns/cities IN NEED. The Christie administration was attempting to give out the money NOT based on need, but on its own desires and machinations.

Jan. 24 2014 10:15 AM
JT from NJ

Wow, these guests are terrible ... and such an important topic!

Jan. 24 2014 10:14 AM

Lawyer John should be the guest, Brian. Not these 2 bozos.

Jan. 24 2014 10:13 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

The difference when it come to disaster aide, the reason that manipulating Sandy recovery funds is out of bound and crosses the line is that people have suffered a loss and the aide is to make them whole. If they don't get that aid and somebody else gets it they will be worse off than before. That's different than deciding who gets benefits that improve their situation from the status quo.

That makes people insecure about at least staying where they are and they begin to suspect that others wish them ill so that those others
will benefit.

Jan. 24 2014 10:12 AM
richard weaver from jerssey city

so happy to hear the lawyer bring some sense to this ridiculous conversation

Jan. 24 2014 10:11 AM

"Acceptable corruption"! Wow, talk about a slippery slope.

Jan. 24 2014 10:11 AM
Francoise from 10024

Christie is crooked but he is consistent: he applied the same 'rules' to himself when President Obama visited after Sandy: responding to heavy criticism from his won party, he responded by saying in essence 'you befriend the one who feeds you, you don't bite him' He made it clear that the money was going to come from the Fed government and therefore "make nice"

Jan. 24 2014 10:11 AM
Ndi Sampson from Midtown, NY

Brian, why did you allow yourself to be hooked by Plotz's click-bait article about the virtues of corruption? Even now he's struggling to defend his oxyMORON-of-a-premise and answer your simple questions. Please end this segment early.

Jan. 24 2014 10:10 AM

I can't believe that your guests today are justifying such actions. They are just wrong. No 2 ways about it. Terrible segment.

Jan. 24 2014 10:10 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Brian, the notion that political corruption can be legitimate must be unpacked.

Jan. 24 2014 10:08 AM
Max from Northern NJ

Christie's behavior and that of his administration, and, indeed, nearly all Government behavior, makes far more sense to me when I view Government as an entity distinct and separate from the people, an entity that acts in its own best interests.

Jan. 24 2014 10:08 AM
fuva from harlemworld

"Admirable" corruption? "Legitimate" corruption and bribery? I am not naive. But too many of the media/journalists have been captured.

Jan. 24 2014 10:05 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Whether politicians call themselves "progressive" conservative, or whatever ...they are still politicians, hence they are all thieves.

Jan. 24 2014 10:05 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Political favors have always had a bad name, as has nepotism. If someone helps a politician during a campaign, that person should either be paid campaign staff or be given a reasonable thank you gift.

Political jobs should ALWAYS be given to the most qualified candidate, as should all other jobs. Putting friends and family in positions just because one is in a position of power is doing a disservice to one's constituency. Period.

Jan. 24 2014 10:04 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

This topic makes me sick. Public monies collected from taxes ought to be equitably and openly spent. NOT doled out to the betterment of our political friends and detriment of our political foes. This is no way for a government "for the people" to operate.

Not unlike the VP who once told me "People hire and promote people who they like." This means that the matrix of connections tends to re-create itself. It's stabilizing but it is also a block to rising by merit. Getting a job because you "know the right people" just stinks.

Yes, I know it happens but it still makes me sick.

Jan. 24 2014 10:00 AM
Susan from West Orange NJ

It seems that any elected official who "gets things done" also gets his hands very dirty. I think there's a very interesting story behind the line up of Democratic support for the Governor during his run for a second term and their disdain for their own party's candidate.

Jan. 24 2014 09:10 AM

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