James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why blackmail should be legal

Trying to make sense of this AP report:
The husband of Sen. John Ensign’s former mistress made “exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits” through an attorney, an aide to the Nevada Republican said Friday.

In a statement, Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said the demands from an attorney for Doug Hampton were made within the past month.

“The demands were referred to Senator Ensign’s legal counsel, who is handling the matter going forward,” the statement said.

Mazzola did not name the attorney nor immediately respond to requests for additional details.

Hampton’s lawyer, Daniel Albregts, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The FBI in Las Vegas and Las Vegas police said Friday they were not investigating the matter.

The headline says Hampton tried to "extort" money from Ensign. "Extort" is a strong word, which I associate with mobsters demanding "protection" money from neighborhood businesses. This sounds more like the commonly-understood definition of blackmail: the willingness to keep a shameful secret for a price.

Ensign decided not to pay the price, and came public with his adultery before Hampton broke it to the media - even though this has harmed his political career. I don't care one way or the other what happened, but it seems odd that Hampton is being viewed as having done something unethical and possibly illegal. Blackmail is actually perfectly legitimate:
  • It gives the relatively powerless some leverage against exploitive, shameful conduct of the powerful.
  • It also gives the powerful the opportunity to maintain a healthy separation between their public and private lives. Purchasing their right to privacy is better than having no privacy at all
  • In cases like this, it gives the aggrieved party, Hampton, a chance to receive compensation
I certainly hope the FBI doesn't investigate. Blackmail doesn't constitute a violation of rights and therefore can not be a crime. To the extent there are federal or state laws against it, they should be repealed.

Otherwise, families like the Hamptons who are used and abused by powerful people are denied their one best option to receive fair compensation.

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