22 October 2005

Corruption.

Transparency International, the leading international non-governmental organization devoted to fighting corruption, recently released its annual transparency index. Rating the United States 17th in the world seems generous.

The White House is likely to face indictments of a score of insiders in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame of a covert CIA agent Those indictments are like to include Karl Rove, the political advisor to the President whose larger than life reputation approaches that of 17th century French Cardinal Richlieu and Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin of the early 20th century, and top advisor to Vice President Cheney Scooter Libby, as well at least one member of the National Security Council and many other members of the President's inner circle. Evidence is starting to surface that the President himself may have known that Rove was implicated and lied to the American people about it.

Tom DeLay, a member of the leadership in the Republican controlled House of Representatives, has been booked on felony charges in Texas, including money laundering charges with a maximum penalty of lifetime imprisonment.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frisk is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission on charges of insider trading.

The former Republican Governor of Illinois George Ryan is standing trial for corruption committed during his watch.

The Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky was forced to issue a pardon for his entire administration (except himself) for violations of state civil service laws. Indictments on new charges issued last week.

Almost every senior Republican elected official in Ohio has been linked to state contractor Tom Noe who got the state to invest in rare coins which then disappeared.

Eight term Republican Congressman from California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is facing a federal government effort to seize his house on the grounds that it was purchased with bribery proceeds.

Of course, not all of the corruption is illegal. The federal budget has unprecedented levels of pork in it, something that has grown markedly during the current administration. The corrupt U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly refused to do anything about it when presented starkly with opportunties to do so.

Cronyism has led to the nomination of manifestly unqualified people, the most stark example of which is Michael Brown, who was appointed to FEMA and bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina (and also lied on his resume). But, the nomination of Julie Myers to head ICE (immigrations and customs enforcement) fits in the same category (many on the right, as well as the left, were disgusted by this nomination), and many people (although not me) have as a result tagged Harriet Miers with the cronyism tag as well. In any case, she does appear to have her share of questionable withdrawals from the public purse, such as a case where her family was grossly overcompensated in an eminent domain case at a time closely overlapping her campaign contributions to the judge.

Republicans may have taken power based on a Contract With America that took aim at the corruption of leading Democrats at the time, but now, the shoe is on the other foot, with corruption occuring predominantly on their side of the aisle.

Progressives drew a lot of their support in the late 19th century and early 20th century from people disgusted with the corruption of political machines. While their solutions like large putting numbers of partisan elected officials supervising what should have been non-partisan duties (like Secretary of State and State Treasurer), and making the initiative and referrendum process part of many state constitutions, were largely misguided, and even some of the better reforms, like the public bidding of contracts and the merit system for many public employees, ended up going a bit too far -- restricting purchases of commercial off the shelf products to insiders who understand the bidding system and making it too hard to fire incompetent or lazy public employees, the disgust was entirely justified.

In the same way, political reformers now, like Common Cause, are rightly incensed at the political corruption often linked to campaign contributions that we see now, although their remedies, like campaign contribution limits, are not always very effective and are sometimes, in my opinion, even counterproductive, making it too easy for political battles to get embroiled in charges and countercharges over the campaign process, instead of the merits of political disputes.

Corruption isn't an easy problem to solve. But, it is an important one, and we need to look for solutions, while being mindful that we don't want to solutions to be worse than the problem itself.

1 comment:

Julie O. said...

One way to keep government somewhat honest (or at least curb the corruption) is to keep it divided. This one-party control of all branches is really mucking everything up. But we can't control the electorate.