This is a reminder for restaurants and other businesses that some federal prosecutors have taken the position that it is a illegal to participate in “I Voted” promotions, where businesses offers a discount or something else of value to customers wearing “I Voted” stickers.
At issue are two federal criminal statutes that prohibit vote-buying. The first forbids making or offering to make “an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate.” The second forbids paying, offering to pay or accepting “payment either for registration to vote or for voting.”
In light of these statues, some prosecutors have said that participation in an “I Voted” discount is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in jail. For example, before our last presidential election, one U.S. Attorney announced: “The public is reminded that federal law prohibits expenditures to influence voting, including offers to make an expenditure to any person to vote or withhold his or her vote.” Therefore, “businesses should not offer free or discounted food, drink or services in exchange for voting.”
In reality, given the number of these promotions and discounts, the probability of enforcement seems low. So, you may not be carried off to jail for accepting a discount on your coffee. That being said, some prosecutors might say your half-price joe is a crime! Proceed as you wish.
Look for the helpers. That’s the advice Mr. Rogers received from his mother to deal with scary news stories and then shared with the world. Some have drawn on it after unthinkable catastrophes like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Some might also find it useful during our presidential election. If the the election has shaken your confidence in others, Mr. Rogers’ mother would advise to look for the helpers and see that people are good. Beyond the bitter campaign, they are everywhere.
Here in Charlottesville, a good place to look is our food community. Consider the restaurants and winning bidders of The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, helpers who provided more than 320,000 meals to the area’s hungry. During the auctions, their generosity inspired other helpers – vendor, aftervendor, aftervendor coming forward with generous donations of time, products, and services.
And, there were countless more examples of helpers providing hope. After UVa’s second leading tackler in history won a fiercely competitive auction to have dinner at with UVa Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall, the runner-up insisted on making a generous donation anyway. When one food business owner learned she had outbid another to win a restaurant’s auction, she invited him to join her for the experience she won. A chef postponed a career move so that a bidder could surprise his wife with an auction dinner for her birthday. A restaurant owner sparked a bidding war for his auction after vowing to volunteer one hour of service at the food bank for every 100 meals it yielded. And, even after the auctions ended, a restaurant not in the auctions created a dinner to reward a multi-time runner-up, creating even more meals for the hungry.
With the bidding now complete, what a blessing it is to receive reports of the extraordinary auction experience, themselves – celebrations of generosity. The latest comes from the anonymous winner of the Fleurie auction item, pitched as a Dinner Party of a Lifetime:
For much of the exquisite food at Fleurie, the starting point is the home of chef-owner Brian Helleberg, where he grows his own produce. The auction winner and eleven guests will spend an evening at Helleberg’s home, where he will treat them to an unforgettable dinner party featuring produce from his garden and wines from his cellar. “I’m hoping to be able to give a glimpse of how my work as a restaurant owner and chef is so intimately related to how I live,” says Helleberg. The auction winner will have the opportunity to collaborate with Helleberg on the menu in advance, to ensure it meets guests’ tastes and dietary restrictions. And, wine writer and sommelier Erin Scala will personally make the wine pairings for the evening.
Last week, the winner enjoyed his dinner party, a spectacular moment of people sharing generosity with one another, all to support the area’s hungry.
It began with assorted hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail of garden watermelon, vermouth, and herbs. Next came chicken en gelee, garden spinach, and radish, paired with Lallier 2008 Champagne.
Simon, it was incredibly perfect in every way. Brian and staff/friends/family, food offerings, wine, service, atmosphere and friendliness were all–ALL–first rate. Add to that my wife and I joining ten of our best friends at the affair and, voila, a perfect and incredibly memorable evening.
What a fabulous idea you conceived and executed. Everyone wins . . . Brian was the superstar, not only that evening but for his generosity in coordinating and totally supporting the dinner.
If this all sounds a bit over-the-top and indulgent, consider that every penny of the $6,500 winning bid went directly to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank – enough to create more than 26,000 meals for the area’s hungry. Indulgence for a cause.
“If you look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers said, “you’ll know that there’s hope.”