Also of interest are Penal Code Sections 85 and 86 which deal specifically with bribery by or of legislators and other elected officials. Penal Code Section 85 makes it a felony for any person to give or offer to give a legislator a bribe with a corrupt intent to influence the legislator’s vote in an official matter.
Penal Code Section 85 provides: “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 district, 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 his or her vote, or in not attending the house or any committee of which he or she is a member, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years.”
Penal Code Section 85 also prohibits someone from using corrupt means like menace and deceit to coerce a legislator to give or withhold his vote on an issue. This includes a prohibition against vote trading. Here, again, this section is premised upon giving a bribe to a legislator. It seems highly unlikely that providing funding for a specific legislative district project, for example, would constitute a bribe. Bribery is premised upon the elected official receiving a personal financial benefit.
However, this section has been interpreted to prohibit vote trading. Note that the state’s criminal laws not only outlaw bribery and vote-trading, but also “any attempt by menace, deceit, suppression of truth, or any corrupt means, to influence a member in giving or withholding his or her vote.” This appears to be a broad prohibition.
In addition, using threats or force to compel a public officer to perform an official act could also be prosecuted under Penal Code Section 518, which is California’s extortion law. This section provides: “Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right.” Voting is an official act by a legislator. But is legislative negotiating inducing a vote by wrongful use of fear or under color of an official right?
Similarly, Penal Code Section 86 deals with bribes by legislators and makes it a felony for a legislator to ask, receive or agree to receive something of value with a corrupt intent to influence the legislator’s vote in an official matter. Section 86 also prohibits a legislator from conditioning his or her vote on that of another legislator.
Penal Code Section 86 provides: “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 district, 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 thereby, or shall give, in any particular manner, or upon any particular side of any question or matter upon which he or she may be required to act in his or her official capacity, or gives, or offers or promises to give, any official vote in consideration that another Member of the Legislature, or another member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district shall give this vote either upon the same or another question, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than four thousand dollars ($4,000) or not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or four thousand dollars ($4,000), whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), whichever is greater.”