A new “culture of corruption”

This afternoon it was learned that the Governor of New York state, Eliot Spitzer, is expected to resign his post after he was named in a federal prostitution case as “Client Number 9.” Elected in 2006, Spitzer already had made waves late last year with a proposal to allow illegal immigrants to receive drivers’ licenses, a proposal that was later taken off the table.

These Spitzer allegations follow on the heels of recent news involving both main contenders for the Democratic Presidential nod. Barack Obama has been linked to the shady dealings of Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, who is accused of fraud, extortion, and money laundereing in a federal indictment. The probe includes questions about the purchase of Obama’s own home and a vacant lot next door. Obama also made the mea culpa of donating over $150,000 of campaign contributions which had been traced to Rezko to various charities.

Nor is rival Hillary Clinton immune to shady campaign contributions, with donor Norman Hsu also indicted on federal charges, including theft and campaign finance violations. She was forced to return $850,000 of donations bundled by Hsu, although she encouraged affected donors to give a second time.

There’s more below the fold.

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Although it’s fun for me to pick on the Democrat side of the aisle, in the interest of fairness there’s been a number of scofflaws from the GOP side of the aisle too. The original “culture of corruption” charges made by Democrats running against the GOP majority in 2006 involved disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and led to the resignation of former Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who was convicted of accepting bribes. This was after a separate incident the year before, when Rep. Duke Cunningham resigned after he pled guilty to accepting bribes as well. Also a factor in the 2006 campaign were the personal escapades of former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, who also resigned weeks before the election.

More recently we’ve also had the withdrawn resignation of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, after he pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge (or pled guilty to using an overly wide stance), along with an indictment of Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona that accuses him of extortion, wire fraud, and money laudering. (Bear in mind the old saying that a good prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, too.) Even on a state level, Delegate Robert McKee left office after a FBI search of his home allegedly found child pornography in his home and on his personal computer.

Misdeeds even occur on a local level: witness the recent DWI arrest of Wicomico County State’s Attorney Davis Ruark. And you can’t always find honesty in public employees either, as Wicomico County employees are under suspicion for a scheme to steal up to $2 million in items belonging to the county. (I went over these charges a couple weeks ago.)

Getting back to my party’s standardbearer, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there has dirt on John McCain as well and they’re just waiting for the right moment to dish it out. All in all, it makes me wonder about where our nation is going.

I’ve met a lot of people who were involved with politics, probably moreso than 90% of those of you reading this. My interest in that field led me to get involved with it on the local level, and that’s the level at which I’m planning on staying. Asking people for money never much appealed to me because then I’d feel like I owed them something.

But if you look at those people I listed in my little hall of shame (with the caveat in some cases that they’re simply accused of their transgressions and not convicted), what brought them down generally fell into two categories: money and morality. One can argue that accepting bribes would also fall into the “morality” category, but for the purpose of my remaining post I’ll keep them separated.

While there are times the morality category can be described as a temporary lack of good judgment on the part of the accused (among my examples, Davis Ruark’s DWI charge comes closest to this description), there’s usually a pattern of behavior that only comes to the surface once a person is caught. For example, it’s likely that this wasn’t the only time Governor Spitzer solicited a prostitute and I’d venture to say that Delegate McKee didn’t acquire his alleged collection overnight. Even though both had to know what they were doing wasn’t kosher with the public trust placed in them, they apparently felt that they were above the law and could do what they wished.

But while these examples in the morality category are bad enough, we have people who steal from the public till for personal gain. In just over a month, most of us face the deadline to send in our tax returns and while most of us get some amount of money back from the federal government, it’s not everything we sent in after you count Social Security, Medicare, and the dozens of other levies placed upon us by government of all levels. Yet more and more people seem to get into public office or the political arena with the apparent intention of enriching themselves as much as possible with dollars sent in by other people. Indeed, absolute power does seem to corrupt some absolutely, and what really scares me is how many haven’t been caught yet. The shame of it all is that I used to think 99% of the politicians I knew were trustworthy, and while maybe that’s never been true I’ve become more and more cynical about that number over time.

While I can’t say I’m naive enough to ever think we’ll have a perfect system again, I’m led to believe that the only way we could get back to sanity is to elect a group of people who are dedicated to making government smaller and allowing the people to keep more of their own money. With less money to redistribute, the temptation to take some off the top may be tempered too. It’s a long shot, but that may be our only hope.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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