Thursday, May 11, 2006

Keeping Busy

After 9/11 and the serious shake-up in federal portfolios, the FBI lost a lot of turf, primarily in its anti-terrorism efforts. In some respects, that loss of turf enabled the Bureau to concentrate on other things it is peculiarly suited for. That's the good news. The bad news is what the FBI found, as noted in today's NY Times.

A post-9/11 effort by the F.B.I. to concentrate on public corruption now includes more than 2,000 investigations under way, highlighted by the Jack Abramoff lobbying inquiry, the racketeering and fraud conviction of former Gov. George Ryan of Illinois, and the multipronged corruption probes after the guilty plea by Randy Cunningham, a former Republican House member from San Diego, bureau officials said.

...The results suggest that wrongdoing by public officials at all levels of government is deeply rooted and widespread. Several of the highest profile cases in which the F.B.I. played an active role involve Republicans.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I had the sense that the most egregious corruption was found at the federal level and involved primarily Republicans. The Times article, however, made it a point to disabuse me of that misconception ("Fair and Balanced," don't you know). First of all, the FBI has found this kind of disgusting abuse of the public trust at all levels of government, including the local. Second, it turns out that at least some Democrats are just as capable of corruption as their colleagues across the aisle. Fine. Nail the backsides of all the miscreants that can be found, regardless of party affiliation.

The question now is what can we do to stop this kind corruption?

Well, to begin with, we could insist that Congress and its counterparts at the state and local level do some real ethics reform. The recent House bill isn't even a start. In fact, it is ethics reform without any ethics reform. Make the penalties certain and draconian. Until more than a couple of really obvious bribery cases are investigated and prosecuted, until the promise of hard jail time and the loss of all access to Congress is a promise rather than a vague threat with no real teeth, corruption is not going to be slowed much less rooted out.

Then we could revisit just how we elect our representatives. Candidates at the federal level have to raise millions of dollars to get elected and stay elected. It is no wonder that they make friends with the wealthiest and most dogged of contributors. Take away that incentive by public financing and the access of the Abramoffs of the world suddenly becomes a much more difficult passage.

In the mean time, keep the bloodhounds at the FBI baying and snapping.


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