November 30, 2005
Getting Serious About Corruption
Rep. Randy "Duke"
Cunningham, R-Cal, pled guilty Monday to accepting $2.4 million
in bribes from defense contractors, and resigned from Congress.
He faces up to ten years in prison when he is sentenced in February.
Perhaps Duke will
share a cell with Rep. Bob Ney, R-OH, identified as "Representative
#1" in the plea agreement made Nov. 21st by lobbyist Michael
Scanlon, who was press secretary to then House GOP Whip Tom Delay,
Scanlon pled guilty
to bribing a congressman, and to defrauding Indian tribes of $19.7
million. He is the first domino to fall in the Justice department's
investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, another associate of
Rep. Delay. There will be more.
are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former
senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the Interior,
and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues," said the Washington
Ney was the only lawmaker
mentioned in Mr. Scanlon's plea agreement, which listed a series
of campaign contributions and gifts made "in exchange for
a series of official acts."
Democrats have been
claiming that corruption in Congress is a new, and uniquely Republican,
phenomenon. But among nearly three dozen lawmakers who lobbied
the Interior Department to block a license for an Indian casino
in Louisiana after receiving contributions from rival tribes represented
by Abramoff were many Democrats, among them Senate Democratic
Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota,
the senior Democrat on the committee investigating Abramoff.
among them President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, accepted
illegal contributions from the Chinese government in 1996.
is no question that Republicans, who were swept into control of
the House of Representatives in 1994 largely because of public
outrage over the House banking and House post office scandals,
have become what they came to Washington to clean up.
Partisans argue the
other party is inherently more corrupt. But the problem is bipartisan,
and systemic. Power corrupts. The greater the power is, and the
longer that it is held, the more likely it is to be abused.
can be solved only by changing the system. There are three reforms
that could break the stranglehold lobbyists have on our politics.
The first is to limit
the tenure of members of Congress. If senators were restricted
to two consecutive six year terms, and representatives to six
consecutive two year terms, much mischief could be avoided.
The second is to give
to the president the line item veto, a power currently enjoyed
by all but seven state governors. Lobbyists would not go to such
great lengths to have pork inserted into appropriations bills
if the president could remove it with the stroke of a pen.
Both of these reforms
would require constitutional amendments, and neither are sufficient
to make a huge dent in the culture of corruption that pervades
Most important is
genuine campaign finance reform. Special interest groups derive
their power from the dependence lawmakers in both parties have
on them to obtain the funds they require to win re-election. Only
when politicians have been weaned from this dependency will there
be a substantial reduction in political corruption.
law and earlier attempts at campaign finance reform have faltered
mostly because they have wrongly defined the problem as too much
money in politics, when the real problem is where the money comes
from, and the strings attached to it.
Candidates for federal
office should be permitted to accept campaign contributions only
from citizens of the United States who are registered to vote
in the state from which they are seeking election, or from the
political party to which they belong.
There should be limits
on how much an individual can give, because no one should be able
to own their own congressman. But they should be higher than they
are at present.
A form of public financing
of elections is required, because political parties cannot constitutionally
be forbidden to accept special interest money except as a quid
pro quo for receipt of federal funds.
Public outrage is
building. If Republicans don't get serious about corruption, we
can't be certain the next Congress will be more honest. We can
be certain it will be more Democratic.
Kelly is national security columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and the Blade of Toledo, Ohio.