How corrupt is Congress?
I read an excellent comment on Outside the Beltway. I’d like to just post the whole thing here, but that’s discouraged. So, I’ll just lift the best part:
Perhaps naively, I still believe genuine corruption among Congressmen and other major officials in American politics is an aberration rather than routine. The people who aspire to and land in those high offices are mostly already quite successful and motivated by some combination of a genuine desire to serve, an interest in public policy, fame, and power. Money is likely low on the list; certainly, most could make more money elsewhere.
Still, the earmarking system is a classic case of €śthe real crime is what€™s legal.€ť Transparency should be the hallmark of the appropriations process and secret deals are anathema to that. The process brings suspicion on what I believe to be the lion€™s share of Congressmen who at honorably. It€™s high time for serious reform.
I think James Joyner is dead-on. However, the perception problem has been compounded of late by SOME politicians pandering to the “all politicians are corrupt theme”. Mainly, of course, Nancy Pelosi and her culture of corruption theme when the Republicans were in charge. That may have bought her a few votes, but it damaged the reputation of Congress in general because although she painted it as a one way issue, it reminded voters of all the legal dancing Clinton did. And, now that Democrats are getting busted, the fact is obvious that neither party is immune. This now blatantly obvious pandering by Pelosi is biting her party in the butt right now. And, it’s going to get worse. You take a group of 535 people and your chances that none of them will succumb to the temptations of seeing a lot of money floating around won’t tempt a single one are nil. People steal from churches, boy scouts, grocery stores, Goodwill. You name it, someone will take it. Congressmen are people no different than anyone else. Some are financially stable, some not. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot because some want more than what they have no matter what they already have. Nancy was betting against insurmountable odds that of the nearly 300 people she lumped in her holier than thou clique, none would succumb. By doing that, she immediately excited the opposite party to keep a special eye out for those that do. When they do, they will be targeted with added vigor by those labeled by Pelosi as being corrupt because of their registration. So, I do see some ugliness where ugliness need not be. William Jefferson is this month’s poster boy for the Republicans, there will be another soon enough.
Secondly, although people rattle off a list of five to ten Congressmen that have gotten into trouble over the last few years, that’s from a list of several hundred. If all of our society could hold to that standard, our jails wouldn’t be crammed full. Fact is, Congress in large does set a higher standard of ethics than the society they were selected from. No one’s a saint, but by and large, they do abide by the laws. You just never hear about those. Ever.
Lastly, the system in place now encourages unethical practices. The problem we have now is very unethical practices are allowed, but then we expect them to abide within the laws. It’s sort of a catch-22. In order to get your word out in DC, you’re expected to accept certain things. Meals, mixers, whatever. It just can’t be cash. Well, it can be cash, but it has to go through a very methodical manner via donations to some PAC or 527. Then they can spend it. What Jefferson did legally wrong was he didn’t form a 527 or PAC to accept that money. That’s all. If he had, he could have been bought all day and night and no laws would have been broken. That’s why I have harped that if Nancy Pelosi were sincere in her political pandering to voters to clean up Washington, we would have seen something tangible. As yet, we haven’t . 527s, PACs, donations, speaking fees, they’re all as legal as they were before. Nothing has been introduced to curb their influence. So, it’s the same old hypocrisies. Nancy got what she wanted, now the issue’s dead and the if the next Congressman busted is a Republican, she’ll harp on the “culture of corruption” and the media will eat it up. If it’s a Democrat, especially if it’s a minority representing Democrat, they’ll harp it’s an anomaly, the vast right wing conspiracy, or the Republicans making them bad. And the core issues will get white-washed again.