Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hobbs Act


The Hobbs Act, enacted in 1946, was named after Congressman Sam Hobbs (D-AL). The act is part of the federal code at 18 U.S.C. § 1951. The Hobbs Act imposes a stiff penalty for certain kinds of behavior:
(a) Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
While act was originally intended to combat racketeering, it has been applied widely to punish extortion by public officials. The Hobbs Act makes use of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce via the Commerce Clause. The Hobbs Act covers extortionate acts by state and local public officials acting under the color of right. A public official--oh, just hypothetically, let's say a state governor--commits extortion under the color of right when he obtains a payment to which he is not entitled knowing that it was made in exchange for official acts--like, and I'm just kind of spitballing here, allowing the company to use the Governor's Mansion for a launch party and arranging a meeting with the Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources--stuff like that.

It's seems kind of farcical to me that someone would have such elaborate rationalizations for evading Virginia's barely there ethics laws in regard to "gifts" to elected officials while at the same time paying no attention to the implications of the Hobbs Act.

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