It’s What’s Legal That’s The Problem


It’s often been said in Washington that the problem of corruption is not what’s illegal, but what’s legal and sanctioned by the system. A system of legalized bribery is how Washington operates. But things just might be changing. Today’s New York Times report that the FBI’s newly found focus on public corruption includes more than 2,000 ongoing investigations must be rocking Congress. And astonishingly, the FBI has established a new website where citizens can report their hunches about ongoing corruption in government.

As one of the Bush administration’s least known anticrime efforts, the F.B.I. initiative has yielded an unexpectedly rich array of cases. 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.

Deeply routed and widespread? That’s got to be the understatement of the century! Corruption is endemic to a privately financed election finance system. Rep. Barney Frank said it best: "We are the only people in the world required by law to take large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on our behavior." And that day to day corruption is hidden because of antiquated disclosure laws and general lack of transparency in what members do and for whom

An upcoming cover story in the Washington Monthly makes the point. Entitled "The End of Legal Bribery," (look for it next Tuesday) by inveterate money and politics reporter Jeffrey Birnbaum, the article makes the case  that even legal campaign contributions are now being seen as bribery by the newly aggressive Justice Department. This new attitude and approach to corruption is sending shock waves through the Washington business/bribery-as-usual.  establishment.

Note: I’ll be out of town the next few days. On Monday, I’ll be attending the Personal Democracy Forum meeting in New York. Hope to see you there!