By Janet Williams

Imagine working in an industry where bribery and extortion are just how you conduct your everyday business.

You want something from a colleague who won’t listen to your point of view? Just offer him or her a bribe.

When your boss or colleague wants you to do something you might not want to do he or she might resort to a little arm-twisting or even extortion.

No, I’m not talking about the mob — or even college basketball.

It’s Congress.

And this stuff is all perfectly legal, except they don’t call them bribery and extortion. They call them campaign donations and congressional deal making.

The powers that wanted the latest incarnation of the Obamacare repeal-replace bill passed offered the Republican senators from Alaska and Maine — Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins — some extra cash and benefits to gain their support. The attitude of Republican leadership was let’s do whatever it takes to get the votes and who cares what happens to health care in the other 48 states.

As we now know, the controversial health care bill died this week when Collins publicly refused to support the measure. She turned down what was tantamount to a bribe. A legal bribe, yes, but many of us would still consider that to be a bribe.

When a tennis shoe company offers cash and benefits to basketball players to go to a certain school or sign with a designated agent, the FBI calls that bribery, too. Only this time they are crimes.

So far, the money involved in the college basketball recruiting scandal is chump change compared to the dollars tossed around in politics.

According to news accounts, a sports agent arranged for $100,000 to be paid to a recruit’s family in exchange for going to a certain school. An assistant coach is accused of accepting $100,000 in exchange for steering a recruit to a certain financial advisor.

The marketing director for Adidas, the tennis shoe company, some coaches and others were all implicated in the scheme that traded access to talented players for cash.

Here is how The New York Times sums up the scandal:

“The complaints depict a thriving black market for teenage athletes, one in which coaches, agents, financial advisers and shoe company employees trade on the trust of players and exploit their inability to be openly compensated because of N.C.A.A. amateurism rules.”

Sound familiar?

It should because it resembles the way our campaign finance system works and how we interact with our elected officials.

If you want to make sure your group is heard by elected officials either in Washington or right here in Indiana, you make donations to their campaigns.

Last year in Indiana, when we elected the state House of Representatives and half the Senate, the governor, and a handful of statewide offices, more than $88 million was donated to their campaigns and party organizations. That number comes from the Election Division of Indiana’s Secretary of State’s office.

Who, exactly, gave that money and what did they expect in return?

Some of the money came from the political parties which in turn donated to their own to ensure a win in November. Other cash came from individuals donating to friends and long-time allies.

Other donations came from lobbying groups and other special interests, like the alcohol beverage industry, which have issues pending before the Indiana General Assembly. Lawmakers are currently weighing changes to Indiana’s liquor control laws.

Nearly $75 million was spent last year in Indiana’s Senate race where Republican Todd Young defeated former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat. The candidates themselves spent a little more than $29 million but outside groups, including political action committees, dumped more than $45 million in the race.

We have to ask ourselves what those outside groups have to gain by pumping so much money into a single race in Indiana. With Congress trying — and, so far, failing — to overhaul the Affordable Care Act and with tax reform on the agenda it’s no wonder so many special interests want to pony up to make sure their voices are heard.

The moral of the story is if you want to bribe someone, steer clear of college basketball and send those dollars to your favorite politician’s campaign committee. It just might buy you a seat at the table.

Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at jwilliams4@franklincollege.edu. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.