Just Hand ‘Em Your Business Card!

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

12 comments… add one
  • Maxwell James Link

    For a while now I’ve been chewing on the notion that our system of governance is largely driven by the division of labor in society. It seems to me we the people have basically outsourced our government to a class of professionals, and that they somewhat naturally seek to protect their own interests using the tools they have at hand. Moreover, they’ve effectively formed an alliance with a wide array of corporate leaders that have kept most of those “handmaiden” industries relatively static as well.

    Of course, the value of this arrangement to most citizens is far more dubious. But as long as societies keep increasing the division of labor instead of decreasing it, I’m not sure what can be done about it.

  • Andy Link

    Hopefully this related video will lighten your day Dave.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Since we seem to be incapable of removing familial dynasties from politics, I think we need to resort to regulating the bloodlines. Society can no longer be left to the romantic whims of an Alderman’s daughter.

    We need a commission.

  • Drew Link

    This caught my eye:

    “Worse yet is that it was tolerated, even encouraged………….. 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.”

    It has become clear that Obama and Emanuel knew of Blago’s intent. (And that should have been obvious to anyone, even the sycophants, not just because of recent testimony.)

    So. What do we say/do about them??

  • So. What do we say/do about them??

    Four! More! Years!

    In 2012 in all likelihood we will have the choice between the incumbent and his opponent who is not one whit better. In the words of G. K. Chesterton it is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

  • Michael Reynolds Link

    Venality is a constant, as sin is a constant. No system yet devised has eliminated sin.

    I’m not saying you should accept it — you shouldn’t. But rejigger the system all you like and the result will only be a change in the particulars of greed and sloth and the rest of the seven deadlies. A certain percentage of the human race are just assholes and will remain same regardless of how we reform a system.

    Consider murders inside SuperMax prisons, child molestation in the priesthood, self-made billionaires in communist systems, prostitution in Saudi Arabia.

  • Venality is a constant, as sin is a constant.

    Agreed. In the final analysis the only reasons to run for political office are rent-seeking or the thirst for power. That’s why my preference is to limit the possibilities for either and gear the system towards active damage control.

  • Rich Horton Link

    As Homer Simpson once said, “Government: The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.”

    No, wait a sec…that was alcohol.

  • Drew Link

    Dave –

    I made a comment here awhile back that I supported Dan Proft in our Repub primary Gov’s race. I gave him a significant amount of money.

    I knew it was money down a rathole; he had no chance. But I just looked myself in the mirror one day and asked “do you just want to shrug your shoulders, or just grouse, or do you want to at least let the “reform” candidate get some air time?”

    And so that’s why your obvious frustration caught my eye. Of all the posters here or at OTB, you, PD and I are probably the only ones who know who Emil Jones is, and what a thug and piece of, er, excrement he is. And he is – in Obama’s own words – “my political Godfather.” Well. We know from what cesspool Obama was trained in and arose.

    I seriously doubt Emanuel or Obama committed a crime. Too smart. Not a chance. But they knew exactly what was going on. Obama wanted Val J. Apparently the deal wasn’t right. But do we just shrug our shoulders, grouse, just move on? Do we soothe our souls with the notion that the next guy will be “not one whit better?” That’s rather defeatist.

    However minor, you and James do have a bit of a bully pulpit here. Do we even acknowledge who and what this guy really is? Or do we just shut up, go “baaahhh” and let the sheepdogs move us along?

  • steve Link

    ” Or do we just shut up, go “baaahhh” and let the sheepdogs move us along?”

    I think you are on a real downer stretch here Dave. Politicians are not really that much different than they have ever been. Find me a time when they were better.

    But to Drew’s broader question, not limiting it to Illinois, I think we need less blind partisanship. I like and give a fair bit of money to our Republican Congressman. He is the best of the local lot so far. We also give money to some Dems and a Libertarian. We, I trust my wife’s opinions and we talk things over, no longer vote a straight Republican ticket like we did for many years. We look for the best candidate and evaluate what parties do, not what they say. We also encourage family to vote, even if they all vote for the farthest right candidate they can find. Involvement is better than apathy.

    My thoughts. Ewe may think otherwise.


  • Michael Reynolds Link

    Most people don’t think beyond partisanship because they can’t think in any non-binary way. It’s us and them, mine and yours, zero-sum games all around. And at least 90% of people will seize on any opportunity to advance that narrow agenda, with no more thought for the greater good than a hungry wolf feels on spotting a lame antelope.

    In fact most people could quite easily be replaced by computers because their thought processes are that predictable and that limited.

    We thought by increasing transparency we’d improve political performance. But so long as everything is tribal then we improve nothing. So long as it’s tribal it’s not about right or wrong, it’s nothing but us and them and to hell with every other consideration.

    We used to hope that the media was a counterbalance to unbridled partisanship. But of course the media are the loudest members of the tribes.

    The only real hope is a substantial percentage of the population rejecting both parties and holding fast to principles without regard to power. Things don’t seem to be going in that direction.

  • Andy Link

    Speaking of partisanship, this is the best thing I’ve read on the topic in quite a while.

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