Fighting Public Corruption

I despise public corruption. And while I am not a big fan of the death penalty, I do think that public officials — elected and otherwise — should be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on rail when found guilty of public malfeasance.

However, I think that as free-born citizens, we need to realize that we are part of the problem in allowing public corruption to exist and continue. First, we are entirely too forgiving of public officials that betray the public trust. Leave forgiveness of sin to God. We should be just, swift, and if necessary, vicious in holding corrupt public officials accountable. In the days of the Roman Empire, when a public official was corrupt, they would sew an official into a burlap bag with a wild animal, and throw them into a river. The only problem with this is the cruelty to the animal. As citizens, we must first and foremost exercise the power of the ballot box to root out the corrupt and venal from public service.

But more important, I think that as citizens we need to realize that our lax approach to the growth of government since the founding of the republic is the proximate root cause of public corruption. Why? Because as the tentacles of government interference and power insinuate themselves into ever more sections of our public life, there will be groups that seek to benefit from, influence, and control that interference.

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One need look no further than the so-called New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt to see this. Far from rolling back the power of large corporations, Roosevelt’s economic policies were written in large part by the regulated businesses. Large cartels were established and allowed to exist — often in opposition to existing law — to further this regulation and control of the market. Many of us have bought into the line that Franklin’s distant cousin/uncle-in-law Teddy was a big “trust buster”. That was true early on, but by his run as the candidate of the Bull-Moose party, the Progressives had shifted from busting oligopolopies and monopolies to controlling them for the benefit of the state. This trend accelerated during the New Deal — mostly as a means to introduce scarcity by elminating small businesses (which left-wing liberals, socialists and fascists see as the enemy). And it continues today. Look at the Farm Bill — which does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help the small family farmer and does EVERYTHING to create markets for companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill often at the expense of the family farmer.

How does this fit into public corruption you might ask? Simple. Public officials no longer see voters as their natural constituents, but corporations and business associations and unions. That is how you end with Ron Lipscomb getting sweetheart development deals from the City of Baltimore, or Ulysses Currie and his Shoppers Food Market troubles, or the indomitable Spiro Agnew and his “no lo contendre” plea over helping out developers in Baltimore County.

Its an interesting footnote of our history and our political life that our Federal and State Constitutions do not mention corporations and their rights. Why? Because corporations don’t vote… people do. And public officials long ago forgot that the voter, not the corporation, is who they represent in office. Whether you are a city councilman in Salisbury, a County Executive in Baltimore County, a state delegate from Harford, Governor of Maryland, Congressman, Senator, or President, your obligation is to the people, not the company.

After all, the US Constitution begins “We the People”, not “We the collection of LLCs and Publicly Held Companies”.

So how do we begin to fix this mess? Well, I have never been a fan of the post-Watergate collection of laws we call “Campaign Finance Reform”. Mostly because the laws carve out giant loopholes that don’t elevate the power of the people, but the power of corporate attorneys and campaign fundraisers.

But I think there are reforms that we could enact — had we the political will — that would dramatically change the power structure in campaign finance and remind the political chattering classes who they should serve.

First, we should ban donations to political campaigns from corporations, businesses, LLCs, LLPs, etc.

Second, we should ban the creation of Political Action Committees by corporations (such as the 1st Mariner Bank PAC, for instance) and businesses.

Third, every single dollar of every single donation must be tied to a registered voter, and every single dollar and every single donor should be reported within 72 hours and published on a website. In short, we elminate the bundling of donations through organizations, companies, PACs, 527s, etc. Get rid of all of it, and remove the donation caps. Every donation must be tied to a registered voter. If you want to give, you have to register to vote. And companies can’t register to vote.

Fourth, ban the provision of in-kind services by anyone other than a registered voter. Don’t let businesses turn their properties into giant advertising billboards for candidates.

Fifth, require every elected official to publish to their constituents once during their term a complete list of their contributions received and campaign expenses.

What am I driving at here: transparency. Transparency is the key to rooting out the evil of public corruption. Public officials can only corrupt the system in the dark recesses where sunshine cannot be seen. As citizens, our mission should be to eliminate the dark recesses.

Let’s get on it.

Crossposted at Gunpowder Chronicle

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