Vote Buying?

This reminded me a bit of the Michael Keaton Batman movie, where the Joker was handing out money to voters in a bid for popular support:

The Capitol Hill newspaper writes that Democratic
House challengers "think they have found a clever way to harness voter
anger over high gasoline prices" by selling it for less, a move that
Republicans defending their seats say is "tantamount to vote buying."

Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) has asked the U.S. attorney in
Louisville to investigate whether his opponent, Democrat Mike Weaver,
violated criminal code with his recent "cheap gas event
at an Elizabethtown station, where motorists filled up for $1.22 a
gallon "“ the price of gasoline when Rep. Lewis took office in 1994.

Beyond the obvious question of just what the hell Ron Lewis had to do with or could have done to stop the run-up of gas prices from $1.22 to their current levels, it would be interesting if this turns out to be legal at the same time that actual political speech is illegal.

I don't know election law very well.  Clearly handing out subsidized gas below cost as part of a political rally is roughly equivalent to handing out $20 bills to anyone who attends said rally.  The party officials involved argue that this activity is legal as long as there is no way to track who got the largess or to tie the money handouts to actual voting decisions:

"The gas is available to whomever wishes to purchase it
at the subsidized sale price for a short time ... there's no condition
attached," Bauer told the newspaper, adding that there is no way to
track whether motorists purchasing the lower-priced fuel are registered
to vote in the district the candidate is running for, or whether they
will vote at all.

I don't know election law very well, so I will ask the readers.  If I was running for office, and holding a publicity event at which I handed out $20 bills to attendees, would that be a legal election practice if, as with the party's logic above, I hand them out to all comers regardless of their voter registration status or party affiliation and I don't do anything to track who they are?

  • It should be, but it almost certainly wouldn't be. Legalistically, this certainly is equivalent to that. But frankly it smells way more like a publicity stunt (sounds like it was a successful one too, given the way it's getting free media coverage) than an attempt to buy votes.

    Compare the number of people who actually got cheap gas to the number of people who heard about the stunt and will remember it, but didn't actually make it to the station (in many cases because they figured, almost certainly correctly, that it'd be mobbed). Think about which group is larger, and thus more likely to be the target audience.