Russ Baker, writing for TomPaine.com, makes what I think is the crucial point when it comes to tales of congressional corruption: It’s not just an individual problem, it’s an institutional one:
No matter how big the affair grows, though, it is likely to follow in the path of so many of its predecessors—distracting public attention from a larger and more important reality: Today, “the largest corruption scandal in a century” is not WatergateGate—it is the everyday performance of the U.S. government. The worst sleaze in Washington is mainly legal…
The main mistake Randy Cunningham made was accepting the goodies while he was still in Congress. There is no crime involved in doing the exact same favors for government contractors, and later joining the company’s board or getting hired as a highly-paid lobbyist, or getting payback on a more indirect basis. That’s the deal all over town, and some of the most “well-respected” names in America have such arrangements—and not all of them are Republicans. The whole thing stinks, but what to do about it? That’s the rub.
When a member of Congress can, as noted below, accept lavish trips year after to year to Hawaii from a special interest that has business before his committee without breaking any rule (and such perks are largely maraschino cherries on the much larger sundaes of lucrative post-congressional career opportunities doled out to members), then clearly there’s a problem that goes beyond that member–one that is institutional in nature.