It's big local news in New York this morning that a Brooklyn state assemblyman, William Boyland Jr., was charged with soliciting bribes from undercover FBI agents who were pretending to be real estate investors or representatives of carnival operators.
I've written about these sorts of cases before here. I may be the only one who finds the FBI's behavior in these sorts of cases troubling, but I do. (When the FBI did it back in 1981, the Wall Street Journal objected, as the New York Sun pointed out the other day.) If some actual real estate investor or carnival operator who was shaken down by Mr. Boyland wants to go to the authorities and complain, that's one thing. If authorities want to tap Mr. Boyland's phone or bug his office while he shakes down genuine businessmen, that's one thing. But there's a distinction between prosecuting actual crimes and inducing them. I'm not saying Mr. Boyland isn't a crook. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But it's one thing to commit a crime of one's own volition, another thing to be tempted into it by FBI agents who apparently were trying to take advantage of Mr. Boyland's sudden need for cash to pay lawyers to defend himself in another case in which he eventually was acquitted by a jury.
A better way to promote honest government than having FBI agents running around trying to tempt politicians into pretend crimes would be to reduce or eliminate the regulatory burdens that force businesses to seek government approval for routine activities such as building on their own property or operating a carnival.