Are Questions on Fighting Corruption Gutter Politics?


Bizarrely, this morning’s Washington Post, which carried a story on the front page noting that the ethics issues and scandals plaguing House Republicans may be enough to cost the GOP their majority, suggests, on the very next page, that Sen. Lincoln Chafee, by raising his opponent’s record–or lack thereof–in prosecuting ethics charges in contentedly corrupt Rhode Island, is engaging in “gutter” politics.

If Chafee’s charge against challenger Sheldon Whitehouse is untrue, it would certainly be an outrageous form of gutter sniping, but the Post never bothers to get around to suggesting it’s inaccurate. Neither the paper, nor the quoted reaction of Whitehouse, provides us with, say, an example or two of public corruption cases that Whitehouse, who had served as both a U.S. attorney and attorney general of Rhode Island, had indeed prosecuted, or offered explanations for why he didn’t prosecute them (lack of jurisdiction, appointment of special prosecutor, or so on). It’s worth noting that the Associated Press didn’t find it too difficult to provide that context in its campaign coverage.

Here’s a summation of the Rhode Island’s travails from a January 2004 report issued by Corporate Crime Reporter:

In Connecticut, Governor John Rowland’s administration is being threatened with the worst public corruption scandal in the state’s history.

Three Connecticut mayors and the state’s treasurer already have been sent to prison.

The Governor’s former deputy chief of staff pled guilty to accepting gold coins in return for government contracts. He reportedly buried the gold coins in his back yard.

Governor Rowland has confessed that he allowed private corporations to renovate his cottage in Litchfield. He first told the citizens of Connecticut that he paid for the hot tub and the cathedral ceilings – but later admitted that he lied. He didn’t pay for them, the state contractors paid for them.

The state legislature has organized to investigate the Governor for a possible impeachment.

Bill Curry, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee who lost to Rowland in 1998 and 2002, now calls Connecticut “the most corrupt state in the nation.”

“We were the Constitution State,” Curry told the Hartford Courant last month. “We were the home of New England town meeting democracy, and now we’re Louisiana with foliage.”

Given this litany, the question of how aggressive Whitehouse was in going after corruption is a legitimate one.