Scandals happen in politics. For those of us who work in the political environment, an expectation develops that every so often something untoward will come to light. Federal indictments, on the other hand, are quite a bit more unusual, although not unheard of. The case of Larry Inman is a rarity indeed: an elected official accused of directly soliciting a financial quid pro quo for his vote. There are no winners in a situation like this, but there are many individuals and institutions that lose because of these allegations, some of which aren’t immediately obvious:
The Citizens of HD 104
To date, Rep. Inman has been stripped of his committee assignments, ejected from the (majority) Republican caucus, had his staff removed from his office, and has become virtually anathema to interest groups, lobbyists, staff, and even other members. Until Inman resigns, or the accusation against him are tried in federal court, the citizens of Michigan’s 104th District (Grand Traverse County) are essentially without any effective representation in the House of Representatives. While some level of constituent service is being provided via the House Business Office (stalwart professionals one and all), Grand Traverse County citizens don’t have an effective voice in the House of Representatives, and are not represented on any committees, and don’t have a House member that has the credibility to advocate on their behalf.
Other House Members
Rep. Inman, in his text messages, insinuated that he was soliciting bribes not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of as many as 12 other Republican members of the Michigan House. While no evidence has yet come to light that other House members were part of such a scheme, certainly House members will be subjected to a far higher level of scrutiny, and many will likely be deposed by either the federal government or Rep. Inman’s defense attorneys, adding further difficulty to an already difficult job. Through (apparently) no fault of their own, all members of the Michigan House have had their reputations besmirched by these allegations, and will have their motives questioned by citizens, watchdogs and others.
Based on what we know from the indictment, no interest groups or lobbyists acted inappropriately, or responded positively to Rep. Inman’s text messages requesting money in exchange for his vote. However, interactions with advocacy groups, lobbyists and others will be subjected to additional scrutiny, causing professional advocates to take even greater measures to obscure how they attempt to influence policy, and lawmakers to follow suit. If Rep. Inman actually goes to trial, as he insists he will to fight the charges against him, lobbyists will also have to testify or give depositions, and the impact could wind up hurting them, their firm, and possibly their clients.
The brazen solicitation of bribes from lobbyists is also likely to diminish political giving to office holders, and further accelerate the ongoing shift from direct political giving to Independent Expenditures. Such independent expenditures by so-called SuperPACs allow interest groups to support candidates that they favor, and creates a bright line that legally cannot be crossed, as SuperPACs are explicitly barred from coordination with candidate committees. By using independent political vehicles and non-profits as an alternative to direct political giving, institutions can shield themselves from the aforementioned additional scrutiny, and turn away requests for direct contributions as a matter of policy. The easiest way for institutions to avoid being solicited for quid pro quo political giving, is to eschew direct giving and accomplish their political goals by other, less transparent means.
An already cynical voting public sees this as just another example of Lansing corruption. This comes at a time when the Senate Majority Leader is floating the idea of doing some kind of extension of term limits. Should this Inman case go to trial and continue to make headlines across the state, it can only continue the public perception that “they are all crooks”… whether that is true or not. Even when they like their own legislator, voters are willing to sacrifice them for the greater good to throw the rest of the bums out. Term limits remain popular with voters and this Larry Inman case certainly won’t help convince voters to let elected officials stick around Lansing longer.
The Fall Out
Regardless of the outcome, things will never be the same. It took a major scandal to get us term limits. The question is will this scandal get us a part-time legislature, or even more likely a crack down on campaign finance rules and additional restrictions on lobbying public officials. There is no undoing the accusations. Even if Rep. Inman is acquitted, many not involved in government have held the belief of corruption and now they have something to validate their assumptions.