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Bizarro Robin Hood

On July 26, 2011, in states, by John Payne

In the legend of Robin Hood, Robin stole the Sheriff of Nottingham’s ill-gotten gains and redistributed them to needy people. Today, sheriffs can employ asset forfeiture to steal from the needy and enrich themselves. However, in most counties, the office of sheriff is an elected, political position, so to retain the job, it is necessary solidify a base of support in the community. One way to do that is to buy friends and supporters with government money. That’s impossible when the money is allocated by a legislative body, such as legislatures and county councils, because those funds are designated for specific purposes.

But when law enforcement takes money through civil asset forfeiture, they have wide discretion in how to use the money, and they do not hesitate to spend it in obviously political ways. For instance, this case in Sedgwick County, Kansas, where Sheriff Bob Hinshaw just gave $10,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club:

After assets are seized from criminals, money is given to local law enforcement to use for crime prevention initiatives and programs like Crime Stoppers. Hinshaw applied and received approval to give a portion of the asset forfeiture funds to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s very consistent with what I feel our mission is in law enforcement and that is to be proactive and try to intervene and intercede with people before a crime is even committed,” said Hinshaw.

The one-on-one mentoring program recently lost all their county funding, $154,000 or 10% of their annual budget. Organizers said this was money that would have helped 254 at-risk children.

The Boys and Girls Club is a worthy cause, but political officials should not have slush funds that they can use to buy goodwill in the community. In fact, this is a major reason why the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse and requires all appropriations bills to originate in the House of Representatives. Allowing executive agencies to control their own revenues invites corruption and endangers our republican system of government.

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