The Freeborn are unique in the Empire in selecting each senator by open auction. Only the dhomiro, the leaders of the wealthy Freeborn families, are entitled to partake in the auction, but whoever bids the highest is entitled to select the senator. Critics from other nations decry this approach as deeply corrupt, but to the Freeborn way of thinking their approach is about honesty. Power and money have always been linked, they contend, the Brass Coast is simply the only nation courageous enough to be honest about it.
To these citizens we will guarantee dignity, freedom, and prosperity.The Imperial Constitution
Being a senator offers many opportunities for personal profit. Some wealthy citizens will pay for a Senate motion to be raised, or for a senator to vote a certain way. Some Imperial citizens view the trade in votes as venal and degenerate, but the Freeborn know that everything can have a price - the danger of corruption comes when people pretend otherwise. In this view it is fine for a senator to sell their vote provided they are open and honest about it.
Selling your vote is not the only way a senator can make money. If a senator is provided with 100 Thrones from the Imperial treasury to arrange a commission then there is ample opportunity to turn a profit if they can arrange it for less. Taking such an approach openly will usually draw public rebuke from other senators - but it is absolutely clear that there is no part of Imperial law that prohibits such profiteering and the magistrates have always made clear that any attempt to outlaw the practice would be ruled unconstitutional. The Constitution guarantees the prosperity of citizens - and that includes senators.
To the Freeborn it is only natural that when something offers the potential for profit, then the recipient should pay to receive the opportunity. The argument that making the senator pay for the seat only encourages them to sell their influence is considered a benefit of this approach, not a criticism. A senator who has paid to buy a seat need have no shame in selling their vote - they have an investment to recoup. If the stake they have put up drives them to use the powers of their position to make as much money as possible, that should be lauded as a triumph, an act of Prosperity and Pride that can inspire everyone who sees it.
Each territory of the Empire will elect a single senator to participate in the Senate, according to the traditions of the nation that claims it.The Imperial Constitution
Various means have been used to divide up the winning purse over the years. For many years it was divided between the losing bidders in the belief that it would enrich all the families of the Coast. The underlying philosophy is that the senator is buying something from the nation - their representation - in the hope of making a profit thereby. Since the Freeborn as a people are selling the seat to the senator then the purse rightfully belong to them. A noble sentiment - at least in the eyes of many Freeborn - but it does raise the question of how the moneys should be divided up and spent.
Many different ways have been used to divide the winning purse over the decades. The most recent was to divide the pot into three unequal portions and share them out among the competing bids starting with the highest first. While somewhat flawed this approach was easy to administer. In recent years however the original intention has been subverted and clever manipulation of the process has allowed the families who have won to keep the funds for themselves - effectively negating the entire purpose of the auction - to redistribute money from the winning house (the purchaser) to the rest of the Brass Coast (the vendor).
The Freeborn Assembly declare that we do not consider the current method of election of Senators in the Brass Coast to be sufficiently Virtuous. We move that the top bid, after administrative deductions, should be shared among all that bid, not merely the top three non-winning bidders. Where everyone votes and bids, that Prosperity should be shared by all.Constanza i Kalamar i Guerra, Freeborn Assembly, Spring Equinox 381YE, Upheld 64 - 0
The Freeborn Synod recently passed a statement of principle encouraging all citizens of the Coast to give their thought to a better election mechanism. The Imperial Constitution mandates that the election process must be in accordance with the traditions of the nation - in practice this means that the egregore informs the civil service how the election will be carried out based on their consultation of the people of their nation. Crucially that is all the people of their nation not just those who attend Anvil (who are already well represented in the political process).
Spurred by this public judgement, the egregore travelled widely across the coast throughout Winter 381YE. The goal of this consultation was focused on finding a better way to distribute the purse - one that would ensure an effective transfer of wealth from the senator to the nation. After lengthy discussion with many the spirit of the egregore opted to revert to a much older mechanism, one where the winning purse would be distributed by the egregore under advice from the hakima.
This approach was used successfully for many years when the Brass Coast was at the height of its influence but it was abandoned with the abdication of Emperor Ahraz in 329YE because of concerns that the hakima had grown too powerful. Such fears have long receded and in any case the egregore is not duty bound to take the word of the hakima, only to consult with them. In practice they are most likely to take the hakima's advice provided they are confident that the money is being spent in the best interests of the nation and not simply returning to the buyer.
The scale of the auction is ultimately determined by the degree of interest in the senate position it secures. If there are few candidates, or worse only one candidate, then it is entirely possible that the winning bid may be counted in rings. Conversely when times are good, the title has the potential to sell for many thrones. There is no shame in someone taking the seat for a steal, but nor is there shame in deliberately pitting yourself against the likely winner merely to force up the price. Doing so can be viewed as an honest attempt to force the winner to pay a fair price for the title and ensure that the maximum benefit flows to the nation from the sale. The hakima in particular are motivated to encourage any potential dhomiro to bid for a seat in the hope of driving up the price - some have even gone as far as to lend money to potential bidders to increase competition.
Likewise some savvy dhomiros have got foreign backing to increase the purse they can offer. A wealthy League prince with designs on the Throne or a rich Varushkan boyar seeking influence in the Senate can sometimes be persuaded to pay well over the odds to secure an extra vote for a critical motion. Traditionally the Freeborn have taken a very relaxed approach to this meddling in their political affairs - the majority view is that once you accept that a vote can be bought and sold - there is no problem appreciating that a Senate seat can be bought and sold. Perhaps just as relevant while the Freeborn bidding against each other moves money around the nation - payments from foreigners brings new money into the nation enriching everyone in the process.
"It's really quite simple dhomiro - you put everything you have in to bid for Senator for Madruga. If you commit to that, we'll ask Dust to loan you last year's purse - nearly a dozen thrones in all."
The dhomiro looked shocked at the generosity of the offer but even so she could almost see him counting the figures in his head. "We could raise a similar amount I think - that would be... 24 thrones with the purse. Is that enough to win?"
She shook her head at the foolishness, but she smiled kindly. She didn't want to hurt the young Dhomiro's feelings. "Impossible - Gracia made a fortune when Emperess Brannan took the Throne - twenty four thrones will not unseat her."
"So what's the point? Where's the profit?"
The dhomiro look confused; Conchita hoped that wouldn't last, she had high hopes for this one. "The point my prosperous friend is that when you fail to win the auction you will return eleven of the twelve thrones to Dust. You profit by a throne and the nation profits by eleven. And just maybe in a year's time we will be having this conversation again but then Dust will have nearly two dozen thrones with which to back you."
The confusion had left the dhomiro's face to be replaced by a very broad smile. Good - they had picked the right one after all... Now they just have to persuade Dust...
The Freeborn brief makes clear that they are a brazen mercantile people, happy to openly engage in horse trading and haggling for things that others nations consider sacrosanct. The concept that everything has a price means that Freeborn characters are will to turn a profit buying and selling things that other characters will not countenance. Bidding for their senate seats is an ideal mechanism to illustrate this key element of the Brass Coast.
However it also serves another useful function. No senator of any other nation pays for their seat in such a nakedly transparent way. When you don't pay for something it's easy to think that thing is free - and it's easy to argue that it's wrong to make a profit from things which are freely had. If other players can successfully denigrate the Freeborn's liberal approach to trade then they can use that to pressure the Brass Coast characters to take actions in their best interest instead of yours.
But Senate seats are rarely really free - there is a limited supply of them and there is usually a price to be paid to acquire one even if the price isn't paid in coin. By explicitly paying for their seats, Brass Coast senators help to establish the idea that the title is an investment - one they have a right to exploit for profit. Once that core principle is established then it becomes significantly easier to openly carry out the kind of horse-trading, deal-making, and profiteering that makes the nation unique in the Empire.
We have updated the way the money is redistributed because it was clear that the previous mechanisms were not working well to redistribute the money paid through the nation. The ideal of the Freeborn system is that the person who becomes senator essentially buys the title from the nation. The money they pay is intended to enrich everyone else. But the old mechanism of redistribution was too crudely mechanical - with the result that it was easy for a few players to game the system and circumvent this key element. The mechanism suggested in the Statement of Principle would have been less crude - but still very vulnerable to manipulation.
Switching to a system in which the egregore consults with the hakima on how to distribute the purse will make it much easier for the money to move around the nation. We hope it will also create an income stream that the hakima can direct towards projects that serve the nation (thus supporting their brief). But if the hakima cannot provide a better option then the fallback position is that the egregore can just distribute the money to the winner's rivals.
At present the sums of money involved are small - probably reflecting a lack of genuine competition for the Senate titles. If the price of a seat is low then that has the clear advantage that new players coming into the game can see winning a Senate seat as a credible goal in the short term - but if the prices do rise over time then it will mean more money moving between players and more game happening around the redistribution of the purse.