This is the fourth of four blog posts on Zephyr
Teachout's excellent new book, Corruption in America
: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to
(Harvard Univ. Press).
Extortion and Pay to Play
Teachout talks about the difference in the origins of bribery
and extortion statutes, the first coming out of judicial rules
(bribing judges), the second coming out of rules governing appointed
or employed officials who use their position to require money from
those the official is supposed to serve for free.
It's interesting that one rarely hears the word "extortion" in a
government context anymore. The term "pay to play" covers one form
of extortion, but it certainly seems less judgmental. Pay to play,
because much of it is legal and it is done by elected officials rather than employees, is frowned upon, but often considered
ordinary business, unlike bribery or extortion.
And yet, Teachout notes, extortion was, at first, more likely to be
criminalized "perhaps because the power dynamic of an official
extorting a citizen was more dangerous than a citizen bribing an
official." But Teachout says that from the mid-18th century "the
elements of bribery and extortion were increasingly fused."