CNN Politics — Buying votes is illegal. But, it turns out, buying delegates might not be.
This summer’s Republican National Convention is shaping up to be an all-out brawl for every delegate’s vote — and legally, that could mean plying some of them with gifts, experts say.
There are federal and state laws prohibiting bribery of elected officials — and restrictions on campaigns themselves — but there isn’t much on the books governing what private citizens serving as delegates at their parties’ conventions can take in exchange for their votes on a nominating ballot. And in a fight between Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and perhaps an alternative not currently in the race, every delegate vote will matter.
“I think the legal term is s*** show,” said Ken Gross, an election law specialist at Skadden and former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission. “I think it’s going to be a circus, to say the least.”
The GOP candidates are battling to win the 1,237 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination and avert a floor fight in July at the convention in Cleveland. Trump holds a lead of 739 delegates to 466 for Cruz and 145 for Kasich, according to a CNN estimate.
Opponents of Trump are especially worried about the potential resources of the billionaire businessman.
Trump’s senior adviser, Barry Bennett, has indicated the campaign is exploring how to bring delegates to its side but made clear there is a limit.
“There’s obviously a big line — we’re not going to do anything immoral, illegal or unethical,” Bennett told CNN. “Most of the time all they want is some access to the candidate or a visit to their state. It’s just a prioritization on your schedule, nothing more heavy than that.”
“We’re not offering seats on the Trump airplane or anything like that,” he offered, saying that the type of person who would seek such a deal wouldn’t be a delegate the campaign would want.
He also doubted other campaigns would engage in such tactics.
Of course, campaigns and candidates are not the only entities that have funds they are looking to spend on a political process – and the rules and scrutiny on those outside groups and individuals are much murkier.
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