Elders Lobbying for Healthcare for Others
A Harried Weekend

The Pervasiveness of Corruption

category_bug_politics.gif The allegations against Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich [74-page criminal complaint - pdf] are distinguished among political scandals for their extreme sleaziness and give me a reason to buckle down on a corruption story I have been toying with for a long time. Even sticking only to recent scandals, the list of transgressions against the public trust is long and the details, when not venal, are sordid. Always, if it’s not about money, it’s about sex.

In no particular order, here are two lists, compiled only from memory, of big-time, elected politicians involved in scandals:

Rep. William Jefferson
Sen. Ted Stevens
Mayor Sharpe James
Gov. Dan Walker
Rep. Charles Rangel
Rep. Tom DeLay
Sen. Robert Torricelli
Gov. George Ryan
Rep. Randy Cunningham

Rep. Mark Foley
Rep. Gary Condit
Rep. Wilbur Mills
Rep. Newt Gingrich
Sen. Larry Craig
Sen. Gary Hart
Gov. Elliot Spitzer
President Bill Clinton
Sen. John Edwards

I’m amazed I can compile such a long list from memory and it is, of course, light years from being exhaustive. It doesn’t include scandals with “–gate” attached their names, business people, military or anyone from the Bush administration. If you don’t recognize some, Wikipedia will enlighten you.

Personally, I’m not much concerned about sex scandals except for my awe (renewed regularly) at lawmakers’ inability to keep it in their pants, and the carelessness in the execution of their libidinous activity.

The people on this list are exclusively male, but a quick search around the web reveals that women politicians are not unknown to participate in money scandals, although not sex scandals which doesn’t mean they don’t engage in sordid liaisons, only that they haven’t been revealed. I suspect there are fewer women reported in any sort of scandal only because they haven’t cracked the glass political ceiling in enough numbers yet – and apparently Mrs. Blagojevich has been a willing participant in her husband’s alleged corruption.

The astronomical number of corrupt politicians, in comparison to the number of elective offices – even if you count only federal officials – leaves me feeling like Diogenes. Is there an honest politician anywhere? Or are there only those who haven’t been caught?

They are all expert at weasel words and I can recall hardly any politician who speaks directly to anything without leaving wide-open gaps of unanswered questions. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in his press conference on Wednesday disavowing collusion with Governor Blagojevich, made no reference as to whether he would accept or reject Barack Obama’s Senate seat if the accused governor appoints him.

Look, I’m not naïve. I know politicians twist corporate and rich peoples’ arms for money in exchange for legislative favors and appointments, and vice versa. But this is the first time in my memory that we know the precise, naked details of how it happens day-to-day, can see the Janus-faced politician as he is, claiming reform in public while selling the public trust for personal enrichment in private.

While reading the criminal complaint, particularly the quotations from the taps on Governor Blagojevich’s telephones and bugs in his office, the horrible feeling crept over me that this kind of “pay-to-play” horse trading is only politics as usual, that they all engage in it all the time, perhaps less crudely than this accused governor. After all, have you ever heard of a high-level, elected politician (who wasn't already rich) who didn’t walk away by choice or failed re-election bid directly into a job that pays enough annually to support you or me for a lifetime?

The Clintons’ finances were in the minus column when Bill became president; now they are worth millions. In a particular pet peeve of mine, former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin now works for $2 million a year for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying job he was given after he shepherded Medicare Part D through Congress, a program that has enriched the pharmaceutical companies by tens of billions while ripping off sick elders.

Much of the time corruption is so Byzantine as to be impenetrable. (What exactly did the banks and Wall Street firms do with those mortgages?) What has made the Blagojevich allegations (has anyone called it Blago-gate yet?) so “popular” is that it is corruption at its most base: “you give me money; I give you Senate seat.” It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

A majority of people go through life working hard for living, do their best to raise their children to become morally responsible adults, pay their bills and their taxes and do it all by the rules. It’s hard to know if politics attracts those who are already corrupt or if politics corrupts those who were once honest, but that short-list above tells us the kind of government we have, have always had. And it is not to anyone’s benefit but politicians and their corporate cronies.

In the recently contagious bubble of political “hope,” the Blagojevich affair is thoroughly deflating.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells us about her son's love in My Grandpa's Gone.]


An honest politician? My ex-husband always defined an honest politician as "one who once he's bought, stays bought" -- I used to think that was awfully cynical but I've come to believe he's probably right. Sad.

What's that line? Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I think one solution is term limits and the longterm solution is better vigilance from the electorate. Our general lack of involvement allows them to live in their own world. We need to be more active and see if that can turn the corner on the trend going the wrong way.

Years ago when I was doing things with a PAC in San Diego I deduced that although there were a number of committed public servants at the local level (where you could compete by walking your district) everyone at or above the county level had made the deal. (I did know of one guy who made it to the county party committee, but that was as far as he got.) That was just my experience and I suppose I could be wrong.

I think also that our system of elections, ads, and campaigning probably encourages it. After all, they spent a lot of money (some theirs, much of it not) to get there, right? They took a lot of money to get there, right? They're already on the slope before they even take office. If they're not, for the most part, they aren't competetive enough to take office.

We seriously need campaign finance reform, and term limits. And maybe some rules about lobbying, but those would be even harder to draft usably than the first two, never mind get passed.

I can hardly argue with you on this, coming from a state where the sitting mayors of two big cities (SF and LA) have demonstrated lately the keeping it in their pants problem. San Jose recently lost a mayor to monetary corruption charges. This stuff starts low.

But it is worth noting that in the recent campaign we put in a Vice President who had the lowest net worth of anyone in the Senate. And that most of Obama's earnings seem to be from books he actually writes himself -- though I don't doubt that supposing he survives the Presidency, his speaking income will be limited only by his energy.

Our culture equates net worth with human worth. Pols are not so different from the rest of us; they just have better opportunities to clean up.

Today's "Significant Statistic":
89% of campaign funds donated to the war chests of our Congressmen come from outside their Congressional district.

Real campaign finance reform and term limits are the best ways to insure a modicum of honesty in the legislature. The term "honest politician" is now an oxymoron

I think this is why it bugged me to no end about the messiah like worship Obama has gotten from the media and many of those that supported him...they are all corrupt...I think you have to be to want to be in politics...you can't convince me that he has been completely unaware of what has been going on in Chicago politics...the fruit falls very close to the tree that bore it...We'll see.

And let us not forget FDR, Harding,and even the sainted Ike. I sometimes think that what was wrong with Nixon was his lack of a sex life. Poor Pat.

Individual corruption is certainly troubling in politicians. Like you, Ronni, I am more troubled by financial corruption than sexual. As most of us know from personal experience, men in general are likely to engage in sexual adventures and are in general careless about concealing them. Women do it too, but they are by nature and nurture more careful than men about getting caught.

What troubles me more, and I think we need a third list, is the corruption that comes from the lust for power. You would get a long list from the Bush administration. For the next month we still have a government that is ungoverned by laws, is full of people who have all the money they can spend in several lifetimes, and seem to be driven by some murky ideology to act without restraint to promote their agenda.

Saul, how could I have forgotten at least Nixon...

Anne, of course you are right about power. I think I just always lump it together with sex and money which pretty much always are used to pursue power.

Like you, I have been just amazed at the blatancy of Blago's greed and corruption. In West Virginia several governors have been laid low by sex and/or money scandals, but at least they tried to be sneaky about their actions. I trust no politicians, or policemen for that matter. Power of any kind seems to twist people at all levels.

I have to wonder if the reason men get caught more often than women has more to do with women telling other women about their affairs, thus the word gets out, and less about men being careless about keeping secrets? Just a thought.

Excellent post! In our society money = power, and people go along with it. I don't know what we can do about it, but I hope something will happen. At the rate we're going, we might have a revolt from the middle class again.

By what stretch of imagination did you include Senator Hart on this list? He was never even accused of criminal activity or of public corruption. He has lived an extraordinary life of public service to this day. He and his only wife will celebrate their 50th anniversary next year. Isn't it time to leave them alone? Do you just tar everyone with the same cheap brush?

Here in Atlanta, our previous mayor (before this current one,) Bill Campbell, is just finishing up his jail sentence of about 2 years for bribery and finincial corruption.

I was just wondering if US politicians of the past had the same rate of scurrilous behaviors as modern politicians.

Geeze, I wonder what this list of names would have looked like if you had actually researched, adding names beyond those you remember.

Gary Hart's indiscretion wasn't quite as garish as Wilbur Mills, but both do present examples of less than discreet public frolicking to make your point.

I suspect another factor that accounts for some of these sex/money/power behaviors could be the influencing effect of reduced inhibitions with the flow of alcohol, other mind-altering substances.

Sdaly,some public servants and elected officials serve only themselves !

Hi Ronni, I sure hope you are keeping warm! I can only guess that no blogpost today means that your power is out, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for warmth, food and safety for you.

Excellent post. I caught the excerpt on Joy's blog. As I said there, nobody goes to Washington to serve the public. They DO go to D.C. to make change- it's about the booty and plunder changing hands.

I too worried about no post yesterday, and also today. I hope it is just as Anne says, nothing worse than a power outage. Do keep warm and well, and cuddle up with Ollie.

Hope you've hied yourself off to a heated location if the power is out in your part of Maine. Wish you had your own power generator if that's the case, though guess most don't have one. You sure don't want a health set back when you're still recuperating. I know how tough it can be if you're alone.

That is one thing retirement communities typically offer -- backup basic power sources and provisions to care for residents in emergencies as you probably know in your research.

We're on storm alert here in So. Cal.-- moving in for several days, but everything is relative, so our experience will be different though likely hardly as harsh as yours.

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