THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Did Falwell Cross The Line ... Again?

For many decades political operatives have tried virtually everything to manipulate people and get them out to vote for their candidates or issues. These attempts to motivate people in the right direction have been called incentives, manipulation, payola, or just bribes. People have been offered rides to the polls which included lunches, offered money, and promised almost everything under the sun in exchange for votes. With the secret ballot there were never any guarantees that the recipients would vote like you hoped, but you certainly improved your chances by offering these "carrots" as incentives. I know the term "bribe" evokes images of illegal back room deals, but calling these tactics incentives seems far from the reality.

Over the years there have been some areas and some political machines that "allegedly" abused the system more than others. New York had William Marcy Tweed, better known as Boss Tweed, while Richard J. Daley kept things under his control in Chicago for many years. Tweed and Daley were among the best known "alleged" strong-arm rulers. There were certainly many others who treated politics like a no holds barred WWF Iron Cage Death Match. For some, there was nothing that was off limits. There is some evidence to suggest that you were even able to vote if you were dead in some of these areas. The focus was on effective as opposed to legal while those in control became rich and powerful. The system has been cleaned up to a degree but there are still borderline tactics that are being used. In the most recent House of Delegates race in Central Virginia there were some fairly questionable "incentives" put into play.

Lynchburg, VA is the home of Liberty University. LU is a fundamentalist Christian school that Jerry Falwell, Sr. started. As the school developed and grew there were many times when it was like a runaway train. Growth out ran planning on quite a few occasions on both sides of the table. The city and school have often been at odds when the city attempted to maintain an orderly growth. Jerry Falwell, Jr., who now runs the school, decided that they needed to have more control over decisions in the city. The answer to his desire was to organize the students at Liberty to vote in local elections. Whether students at a college or university should be able to control a city where they are temporary residents by 'stuffing' the ballot box will be debated for a long time. Unfortunately, that is the current reality in college towns in Virginia. The end result is that residents have sometimes been outvoted by temporary non-resident students.

The basic concept of getting students involved is a good one. Our children and students are only 25% of our population, but they are 100% of our future. They have to be involved for our system to not only thrive, but also to simply survive. However, we have to remember that Liberty University is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt institution. This tax-exempt status means that Liberty University is barred from intervening in elections or showing preference for one political party over another. Jerry Falwell, Sr. got in trouble for trying to influence elections a few years back. This recent effort to influence the elections by Jerry, Jr. happened to occur shortly after he pulled the plug on the student Democratic Party Club by refusing to recognize them as a school club. At the same time, the Republican Party Club still had his blessings.

The tactics Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Liberty University used to involve students creates some problems for me. This conservative, Christian-based institution reportedly offered several "carrots" to students who registered to vote or voted. If enough students registered, the school would be closed for Election Day. Buses would be provided to take students to the polls. I have no problem with that and I assume that it is perfectly legal. My struggle comes with some of the other reports that have come out of Liberty. Some talked of the free passes given out to the school's ski slope, extra credit and forgiveness for skipping a class that were connected to registering and voting. And most shocking of all, students were able to visit dorms of the opposite sex just for Election Day. What kind of message does that send? Vote and you can interact with the opposite sex! It's almost like Club Med.

Aside from the fact that some of the school's actions seem to be in conflict with the school's tax exempt status, I guess the rest is legal. Legal or not, Liberty University has played a big role in making the line between voting incentives and bribery just a little thinner.

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