John Kass’s latest column really should be essential reading:
On Thursday the Supreme Court gutted a key tool used by federal prosecutors to fight white-collar political corruption. It’s known as the “honest services” clause. It deals with the tangible right of Americans to expect honest service from their elected officials.
Even in Illinois.
The court decided that the law was too vague. And since it was also used to convict business crooks like Enron CEO Jeffery Skilling and Chicago media baron Conrad Black, their lawyers are overjoyed.
But the ruling will have its biggest impact on political prosecution cases, because the justices limited theft of honest services to direct bribery and extortion.
Such thinking is simplistic. Big-time political corruption isn’t about greasy envelopes stuffed with cash, passed in some alley behind a tavern.
Rather, high-level corruption is circular, buffered and layered. Elected Official A helps Donor B to compensate Contractor D, who takes care of Regulator C as A’s nephews get rich.
Or, as former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski once put it, Never take a bribe. Just hand ’em your business card.
I grew up surrounded by politicians in a political family and I consider myself fairly pragmatic and realistic when it comes to political corruption but I simply can’t listen to much of the coverage or proceedings in the Blagojevich trial without becoming physically ill. It was obvious to me long, long before he ran for governor that the man was an idiot who wouldn’t have had a chance of getting a job cleaning out restroom stalls in the courthouse without pull from his father-in-law. In an honest system he’d be living in a packing crate on Lower Wacker Drive. The transparent venality is genuinely shocking.
Worse yet is that it was tolerated, even encouraged. I have been through corporate purges. I have worked for several companies in which when something like happened not only was the perpetrator fire but anybody who knew about it was, too. Maybe the world has changed and greed and corruption at levels inconceivable to me have become commonplace.
I think that the basic, underlying problem is that there’s so much money in government, particularly at state and federal levels, that it attracts the greedy who don’t want to work for a living. As in a poind the scum rises to the top.
I’m accustomed to the retort that we get the government that we deserve. I have voted for so many candidates that weren’t elected to office I find that hard to stomach. I have voted for a candidate that was elected to the presidency exactly twice and I’ve been voting for more than 40 years. Clearly, it’s not just the individual elected officials but the system itself that is corrupt.
I’m very discouraged.
Hat tip: Mike Volpe