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Could reneging on a political pledge ever be considered fraud?

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http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/top_republican_senator_ditching_CiePq6ZU8sklvWDxaeapbJ

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, has recently stated that he will not honor a pledge he signed to not raise taxes.

Let's say he proceeds with that plan, and votes to raise taxes. If, in fact, there was conclusive evidence that he did not intend to stick by this pledge, not even back when he cynically signed it, should he be prosecuted for fraud against the people who voted for him based on this written commitment?

I know that would count as fraud in any other profession.

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If it were an enforceable written contract that hasn't reached its expiration date, you might have a of breach of contract; I don't see that fraud would figure in. As I understand the law, one condition of having an enforceable contract is a quid pro quo: the other party (Norquist's organization) should have given something up when Chambliss did.

The surest way to decide such a question is to take it to court.

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That's an interesting question because I don't think it would have meaning an Objectivist/libertarian context that views taxation as illegitimate force. It would be like asking if a robber who was only going to rob you X amount, but later changed his mind and robbed you X+n amount could be sued for breach of contract. But I think more interesting is the question of whether or not politicians in the current system are bound by any of the oaths they make, and how could one bind them under a proper limited government.

On the former question, Lysander Spooner in No Treason No. 6 starts off with an argument that Congressmen's oaths of office are of no validity, then later extends that to all oaths taken while in office, for the reasons that in no real sense are Congressmen "our servants, agents, attorneys, nor representatives" but rather a member of "a secret band of robbers and murderers," and that they authority the are exercising is really their own individual authority, and that the only responsibility they have is to make themselves as responsible for their injuries, like you say, as anyone in any other profession. They could just as easily say something like: "I never knew you. If I gave my oath to anybody, I gave it to other persons than you. But I really gave it to nobody. I only gave it to the winds. It answered my purposes at the time. ...[Y]ou relied only upon that honor that is said to prevail among thieves. You now understand that that is a very poor reliance. I trust you may become wise enough to never rely upon it again... Begone!"

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If it were an enforceable written contract that hasn't reached its expiration date, you might have a of breach of contract; I don't see that fraud would figure in. As I understand the law, one condition of having an enforceable contract is a quid pro quo: the other party (Norquist's organization) should have given something up when Chambliss did.

Well, they did, they gave him their support.

But I'm not asking about breach of contract. There is no legal framework to enforce contracts of this nature, and I'm not suggesting that there should be (politicians shouldn't be allowed to sell their vote, or contract it away for anything other than money either).

This pledge is not a contract. But you don't have to have a contract to commit fraud. What I'm suggesting is that he may be defrauding his constituents, not Norquist. After all, the pledge was Norquist's idea, but it is made to the voting public, not just to Norquist.

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This is an interesting question.

How can you prove that people voted for him based on that one committment and not his whole philosophy?

Everything a politician says (about what they believe, what they will do in congress, etc) is a pledge. And voters need to bare some responsibility by looking at their entire records.

The only proper punishment is public backlash and getting voted out next election cycle, which is happening now with increased media focus on that pledge and angered republicans.

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Would you say the same about a pledge a banker or a car salesman makes? (Let's say a written pledge, published in a newspaper ad, committing to offer some kind of free service to people who make a deposit or buy a car. )

Is it impossible to prove in Court that customers who used this bank or car dealership did so because of the commitment? Is it their responsibility to look at the track record of the bank/dealership, or is it fraud punishable by law?

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Would you say the same about a pledge a banker or a car salesman makes? (Let's say a written pledge, published in a newspaper ad, committing to offer some kind of free service to people who make a deposit or buy a car. )

Is it impossible to prove in Court that customers who used this bank or car dealership did so because of the commitment? Is it their responsibility to look at the track record of the bank/dealership, or is it fraud punishable by law?

If you accept that voting is equivalent to purchasing a car, then yes, fraud should be prosecuted by the law in both cases.

However, voters aren't customers and politicians aren't a product.

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If you accept that voting is equivalent to purchasing a car, then yes, fraud should be prosecuted by the law in both cases.

However, voters aren't customers and politicians aren't a product.

No, politicians aren't a product, but fraud isn't defined in terms of "customers" and "products" either.

Politicians are public servants. The are, like Lysander Spooner points out in the book 2046 mentioned, supposed to be working for the people they represent. An employee can in fact commit fraud against his employer, can he not?

Would an employee promising something he has no intention of delivering on, in writing, before getting hired for his job, be committing fraud? So does that apply in any way to this situation? Or was Lysander Spooner right, and the notion that the public servants work for the people is just meaningless gibberish, because there is no way to hold them to it?

Personally, I don't think he was right. I think Capitalism can work to hold political representatives responsible for their commitments, if there are appropriate legal mechanisms in place to ensure it.

Edited by Nicky
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No, politicians aren't a product, but fraud isn't defined in terms of "customers" and "products" either.

Politicians are public servants. The are, like Lysander Spooner points out in the book 2046 mentioned, supposed to be working for the people they represent. An employee can in fact commit fraud against his employer, can he not?

Would an employee promising something he has no intention of delivering on, in writing, before getting hired for his job, be committing fraud? So does that apply in any way to this situation? Or was Lysander Spooner right, and the notion that the public servants work for the people is just meaningless gibberish, because there is no way to hold them to it?

Personally, I don't think he was right. I think Capitalism can work to hold political representatives responsible for their commitments, if there are appropriate legal mechanisms in place to ensure it.

What were the damages to the voters (the employer) that would be recoverable through the court system?

Usually if someone lies on a resume, the only option (and this would be the same in an objectivist society) is to fire him. In this case, the voters are the employer and the pledge is part of their résumé. And yes employers do have some responsibility to verify the information on the resume.

If enough voters find the lie of material significance, then they will not elect him next cycle, or fire him.

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What were the damages to the voters (the employer) that would be recoverable through the court system?

Again, I am talking about fraud. Fraud is a crime, not just a civil law violation.

Usually if someone lies on a resume, the only option (and this would be the same in an objectivist society) is to fire him.

Usually? So you are aware that that's not always true, and that resume fraud can be a criminal offense?

And, in this case, we're not talking about a resume. We are talking about a written commitment to not raise taxes. That's more than a resume. That's someone committing, in writing, to vote against any tax raises, with no intention of ever doing so.

That is a criminally prosecutable offense. If I go to a company, and commit to becoming a field worker for them in a remote location, but instead just go on vacation with the money, that is a crime. Getting fired is not the worst thing that can happen to me.

If enough voters find the lie of material significance, then they will not elect him next cycle, or fire him.

That's odd, I never heard of any other employee who got caught lying on his resume but continued to hold his job for another six years before getting fired. Where did your resume analogy go? Even if all this was was a lie on a resume, shouldn't he be getting fired right away?

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Again, I am talking about fraud. Fraud is a crime, not just a civil law violation.

Usually? So you are aware that that's not always true, and that resume fraud can be a criminal offense?

And, in this case, we're not talking about a resume. We are talking about a written commitment to not raise taxes. That's more than a resume. That's someone committing, in writing, to vote against any tax raises, with no intention of ever doing so.

That is a criminally prosecutable offense. If I go to a company, and commit to becoming a field worker for them in a remote location, but instead just go on vacation with the money, that is a crime. Getting fired is not the worst thing that can happen to me.

That's odd, I never heard of any other employee who got caught lying on his resume but continued to hold his job for another six years before getting fired. Where did your resume analogy go? Even if all this was was a lie on a resume, shouldn't he be getting fired right away?

What is the difference between a pledge in writing and an oral pledge, and why do you keep making that distinction?

If you accept that there is no difference, which I do, wouldn't anything a politician says about policies and beliefs be a pledge?

I agree I am having trouble reasoning for why it shouldn't be something to be prosecuted for fraud. I don't think politicians should be held legally accountable for pledges because reality is more important than pledges--meaning politicians shouldn't be afraid to make the best decisions because of a pledge they signed. It is a hard question.

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