In simplest terms, the act of "buying" or "selling" legislator votes is a serious form of corruption that undermines the entire legislative system.
Therefore, it's a felony under California Penal Code 85 PC to give or offer a bribe to a legislator at any level of government. It's also a felony for a legislator to request or receive such a bribe under Penal Code 86 PC.
Put simply, PC 85 is the statute making it a crime for someone to bribe a legislator or to use corrupt means to influence a legislator, including state legislators and anyone on the city or county board.
Penal Code 86 PC is the statute making it a crime for a legislator to ask for or receive a bribe, including city or county legislative body members.
PC 85 says, “Every person who gives or offers to give a bribe to any Member of the Legislature, any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special districts, or to another person for the member, or attempts by menace, deceit, suppression of truth, or any corrupt means, to influence a member in giving or withholding their vote, or in not attending the house or any committee of which they are a member….”
PC 86 says, “Every Member of either house of the Legislature, or any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special districts, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive, any bribe, upon any understanding that his or her official vote, opinion, judgment, or action shall be influenced…is punishable by imprisonment….”
Being convicted of giving or receiving a legislator bribe can earn you up to four years in state prison. Let's review this state law further below.
Overview of Legislator Bribery Laws
Together, PC 85 and PC 86 are designed to suppress undue influence and corruption within all levels of legislative government in the State—from members of the State Legislature to county and city legislators and even to local school board members. Let's look at both laws in more detail.
Penal Code 85 PC
PC 85 makes it a crime for anyone to offer or give a bribe to a legislator or to use other corrupt means (e.g., menace, deceit) to influence the way they vote. To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must prove the following:
- You gave or offered something of value to a legislator as a bribe; OR
- You used other corrupt means, such as menace, deceit, or suppression of truth, to manipulate the legislator; AND
- You did either of the above to influence the legislator's vote corruptly; AND
- You did either with corrupt intent.
Penal Code 86 PC
Similarly, PC 86 makes it a crime for any legislator to solicit or offer a bribe in exchange for exerting their influence or voting a certain way, such as selling their vote. To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must prove that, as a legislator:
- You requested, received, or agreed to receive a bribe of money or something else of value from someone;
- You did so while representing that the bribe would unlawfully influence your vote, opinion, or other official action; AND
- You did so with corrupt intent.
For the purpose of these ordinances, to act with "corrupt intent" means to act with the intent to subvert the system to gain an unfair personal or financial advantage.
It should also be noted that no actual exchange of money or value needs to occur for prosecutors to convict you of legislative bribery. They only need to show that something of value was offered or requested in exchange for undue influence.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: John, a real estate developer, offers his local city council representative a "gift" of $100,000 and a trip to Europe if he votes yes on a rezoning proposal that would allow John to build a casino on his land. The representative accepts the offer. As a result, John and the representative can be charged under PC 85 and 86, respectively.
EXAMPLE 2: Jeri discovers her state legislator has been having a clandestine affair. She blackmails him, threatening to "out" the legislator to the local media unless he either votes "no" or "present" on a particular bill. Jeri can be charged under PC 85 because even though she offered no money, she used corrupt means to influence the legislator.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 85 and Penal Code 86 PC bribery of or by legislators, including the following:
- Penal Code 92 and 93 PC – bribery by or of judges;
- Penal Code 137 and 138 PC – bribery by or of witnesses;
- Penal Code 67 and 68 PC – bribery by or of executive officers;
- Penal Code 641.3 PC – commercial bribery.
What Are the Penalties?
Violations of PC 85 and PC 86 are both felony offenses in California; however, the penalties for a conviction can be much more extensive for the legislator than for the citizen offering the bribe.
If you are convicted of bribing a legislator under PC 85: you could face a prison term of two, three, or four years, depending on the circumstances of the case.
If you are a legislator convicted of receiving a bribe under PC 86—you could face the following:
- Up to 4 years in prison;
- A fine between $4000-$20,000 (if no bribe was received); or
- A fine equivalent to double the amount of the bribe;
- Removal from office; and
- A lifetime ban from any future public office.
What Are the Common Defenses?
If you're charged with legislative bribery, either giving or receiving, a California criminal defense attorney can employ various defense strategies to combat the charges, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no corrupt intent. Prosecutors must prove that whatever exchange occurred had corrupt intent or was designed to influence corruptly. If your attorney can show you had no such intent, the charges may be dropped.
Perhaps we can argue that no corrupt means were employed. It's not corrupt to ask a legislator to vote a certain way. You're not guilty of this crime if no bribe, threat, or other corrupt mechanism was employed to influence the legislator.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no legislator involved. If the person requesting or receiving the bribe is not a state or local legislator (or was not a legislator at the time of the exchange), no crime occurred under PC 85 or 86.
You can contact our law firm by phone or using the contact form to review the details of your case. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.