Thursday, August 23, 2012
Corruption Dare No Longer Be a Taboo Topic in This Presidential Election
First, the sheer magnitude of cash in the elections has a nasty smell. Not since "Watergate" in 1972 have major financial contributors to presidential election campaigns been able to hide their identity as so many of them are now able to do. The Supreme Court asserted in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that as part of the Constitutional right to free speech, organizations and individuals could use their money as they wish, privately and anonymously, in support of whatever political views they might hold.
This is a huge blow to transparency and an invitation to corrupt practices. This year's elections may involve more than $2 billion in campaign cash and it is hard to believe that the biggest donors will not expect to enjoy powerful influence if their candidates win office. The voter sees this and is appalled. The 2008 U.S. elections involved close to $1.8 billion of campaign cash -- how much of it bought special access, special favors and special influence to those with politicians to those who made particularly generous contributions, and those who "bundled" the mega-contributions on behalf of candidates?
Second, many prominent politicians have been brought to justice in recent years by courageous public prosecutors. As each new case hits the headlines, so over time the combined impact is bound to damage the image of all engaged in politics. Rod Blagojevich, former Governor of the State of Illinois, started a 14-year-jail term this year on being found guilty on 17 charges of fraud and corruption -- the harshest sentence that any politician in the U.S. has received in modern times for graft. From Illinois to New Jersey and New York State, to Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., prominent politicians and public officials have been indicted for corruption and, in many instances, current investigations into corrupt politics are underway. The public reads the stories in the local media, one upon another, as a sick compendium is compiled.
Third, the 2008/2009 financial crisis, which devastated the economy, owed much to the transformation by Wall Street of financial services firms into casinos. But, none of the leaders of the biggest mortgage companies and banks have been indicted for wrong-doing and many of them, who lost their jobs, took home multimillion dollar compensation packages. For many Americans there is an abiding sense that Wall Street financiers participated in massive corruption and got away with it, thanks to their cozy ties to the government agencies that are meant to be regulating our financial system in the public interest.
And, this takes me to the fourth reason why Americans are so concerned about government corruption: They see Washington, D.C. as a cesspool of special interest lobbyists who have made elected officials so beholden to them that Congress is in permanent gridlock, the federal budget is a disaster, the economy is faltering, and a host of enterprises, who engage armies of lobbyists, are prospering.