How to legally(?) and efficiently bribe a democracy

I attended Opentech yesterday. One of the highlights of the day was Terence Eden on “Kickbackstarter”. The idea being, in short, to crowdsource bribing your MPs to vote the right way. It’s a distressing and awful idea that nevertheless I think might actually be an excellent solution.

The practical problem, of course, being that bribing MPs is illegal.

So I had a think about how I would solve this problem, and I came up with what I think is a nice solution. I don’t have any idea how legal it is. I have a hard time seeing how it could be illegal, but the law is a strange and complex beast of which I know little, and it’s possible that this might fall afoul of some clauses around attempting to influence the democratic process whilst not being rich or something.

The idea is very simple: We never attempt to bribe anyone. No one is ever given any gifts related to their actions.

Instead what we do is that we enter people into raffles based on their actions as a group. This raffle will be run regardless of the result of the actions, and your entry into it is not contingent on your actions.

So how does this modify your behaviour?

Well, you see, the number of tickets depends on the total actions of the group. The more in line with your preference your MPs act, the more tickets get allocated.

Here’s one example of how it could work:

We decide on a gift (say a gift basket, flowers, book tokens, whatever) of a fixed monetary value. We must have sufficient funds available to send this gift to all MPs, though we’re unlikely to need that in practice.

When a piece of legislation is being voted on, we precommit to give one gift item per MP who votes in accordance with our desires on this bill.

Once the vote has been performed, we do indeed give those gifts. However whether or not you voted in accordance with our wishes has literally no bearing on whether you get the gift (maybe we want to restrict it to MPs who actually voted, as a “Thanks for doing your job” measure). The gifts are randomly allocated, with every MP equally likely to get one. Obviously the more MPs who vote as you wanted the more any individual MP is likely to get a gift, but there is no direct personal incentive to vote this way – you’re just as likely to get a prize if you and someone else swap votes. You are of course more likely to each win a prize if you both vote the “right” way.

So you are given a subtle incentive to vote in accordance with our wishes, but you are not directly being rewarded for doing so.

I think the fact that MPs will get gifts regardless of whether they’re on your side also has the nice advantage that it will raise your awareness with everyone.

It does maybe have the downside that people will be disinclined to vote in a way that might benefit some other MP who they don’t like so much. It’s not a rational decision, but people are often irrational about probability.

Would it work in practice? Dunno. It would be an interesting thing to try. Is it legal? I have no idea. Check with a lawyer before trying it. Is it ethical? I don’t know. I really don’t. It feels skeevy as hell, but I think the ends might justify the means here.

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