Last night watching the news about our soon-to-be incarcerated ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich, my wife commented that the real crooks still are in control.
The line under the Onion’s photo of Blagojevich seems to express her opinion more pointedly:
In reading Capitol Fax comments on whether Rod Blagojevich’s sentence will deter political corruption and found this one from a former prosecutor which I would like to share:
As a former prosecutor, I’ve thought about this a lot. I think that jail sentences for white collar crimes have some deterrent value, and some value for expressing society’s outrage. The outrage for Blago — both because of his own conduct and because he succeeded Ryan as a “reformer” — was great.
That being said, I agree with Jack Abramoff, the convicted DC lobbyist, who has been in the media promoting his new book. The worst type of corruption is the legal corruption.
Example 1: I get the bill you want passed. A couple of weeks later you get an invitation to my fundraiser. I make a comment to you at some point that isn’t quite a quid pro quo, but lets you know that I know who my contributors are. Nothing can get prosecuted.
Example 2: Relatives/friends of the mayor are the winning bidders! The mayor may not have told anyone to help them with the contract. He/She may not even know about it. Underlings just help make sure it happens.
Example 3: You hire my law firm to do real estate tax appeals. I don’t handle the appeals – my partners do. My friends and political supporters are the assessor and on the zoning board of appeals. My partners are really good real estate appeals lawyers and they (almost) always win. You don’t even have to contribute to me, just pay your legal fees. I make contributions to my friends, of course. And if you happen to have other business up before my office/committee, I may remember that you hired me. I may even loudly announce that I recuse myself.
Nothing prosecutable here, folks. Just business as usual. Money flowing into the system. Money elects people who keep the system running. New people get their take for their campaigns.
If a politician is greedy, and/or not very smart, he or she might be so obvious about it that the politician “crosses the line” between legal and illegal, and risk being “caught” and prosecuted.
So, in a way, catching Blago, Ryan, etc., is only catching some of the ones who are most stupid and/or arrogant. It’s not deterring the pros from legal corruption.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. The public needs to know what goes on. And while the legal corruption is horrible, corrosive, and destructive, the outright bribery and extortion is also bad. Sunlight and bleach need to be used on the system as much as possible. They help a little. But these prosecutions, at best, deter some illegal corruption. They don’t stop the bulk of the legal trading of money for access and governmental contracts and favors that is, at best, a necessary side-effect of our system.
My suggestion is incarceration in state prison:
- elected by their peers
- judged by their peers
- punished with their peers