The very recent former governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen, were charged in a 14 count federal indictment with wire fraud and other criminal violations involving misuse of his office. The indictment reads like a condensed crime novel that would also make a great movie. Sadly, though, whether the pair is convicted or not, the citizens of Virginia are the losers. They trusted this self-righteous politico, who wore his Christian faith on his sleeve and then betrayed those that believed in him.
As is so common with officials who end up charged with crimes related to their office, the person bestowing all the largess on the governor and his wife was a wealthy businessman that McDonnell first met when he campaigned for the high office. Amazing how some politicians never learn that people who you first meet and become your “best friend” after you acquire some power or potential power, are the ones most likely to bring you down. I recall a mob guy in New York saying that if he didn’t know someone in kindergarten, he didn’t know him now.
In my opinion, corruption by any official, elected, appointed, or in the civil service is much more serious than its counterpart in the private sector. Citizens at all levels of government rightfully expect their governors, judges, prosecutors, police, inspectors, and other functionaries to act honestly and in their constituents’ best interests. When that doesn’t happen the system breaks down on all different levels. If someone doesn’t think he can get an honest shake in court, he could resort to self-help and violence. People will act outside the law on all levels where they feel that government is broken, where money has influenced an official in a way that benefits one person(s) to the detriment of another person(s). When that happens our society breaks down and we end up living in a third world environment.
Robert and Maureen McDonnell confided in their benefactor that they were broke, that their credit card debt was essentially out of control. In return the benefactor was only too happy to submit to every request from the pair ranging from contributing to their daughter’s wedding costs, gifts that included luxurious dresses and a Rolex watch, access to an exclusive country club for golf outings, and so much more. In return the businessman got the governor to support some bogus medical research to be conducted by the University of Virginia Medical School to validate a questionable health product the businessman manufactured.
The governor issued a non-apology apology. He said that he regretted using bad judgment, but his fellow Virginians could be assured that he never sold out his office. Too bad he didn’t say that he was sorry he engaged in what was essentially bribery and extortion, that he was sorry he violated the public trust, and that he was motivated by greed. Perhaps we’ll hear something like that at his sentencing if he is convicted. I wouldn’t bet on it.
The bigger story in all this is the absolute necessity for campaign finance reform. It likely won’t happen though for two reasons. First, the special interests will ensure that their representatives never vote for it. And secondly, and more importantly, as long as the Supreme Court equates money with speech, cash will be king. For those who proclaim to be “constitutionalists”, who say that we need to get back to the Founders’ intent and literal meaning, I would ask where in the First Amendment it says anything about cash and speech going together.
Today’s shrinking middle class is pretty much ignored by our Washington representatives. They don’t have the money to contribute any meaningful sums to campaigns. They don’t have access to big donors that they can tap into on behalf of a representative. One figure I read is that the average senator must raise $10,000/day in order to prepare for the next campaign. With that kind of pressure it’s not hard to figure out where the representative is paying attention and to whom. The middle class’ alternatives to get attention all too often lie with movements like Occupy Wall Street. The right likes to portray this as a communist conspiracy, but there will always be extremists in every group including the civil rights movement whose message ultimately prevailed.
One proposal for starters, not original with me, is to limit contributions for congressional representatives to people living in the district. For senators, limit them to the state. It won’t stop all corruption, but it would be a beginning.