The Corruption in Government
What did you expect when you gave control of huge piles of money to a small number of people, and you made it your practice to stop in and check on them just once every two years?
A pair of news items in the Washington Post last week illustrate what might be called “the corruption in government.” That’s not corruption in government—an infection of illegal behavior making its way into an otherwise clean system. The corruption in government is the idea that having political leaders take control of wealth is naturally going to cause abuse. Abuse that’s 100% legal, even.
For the first story, the Post did an investigation turning up where members of Congress have directed aid to their home districts in ways that have benefited themselves personally. The story features Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), who directed funds to downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama, directly adjacent to property he owns.
In addition, the Post looked into whether politicians’ relatives were benefiting from the aid they were sending home. Sure enough, members of Congress are sending federal dollars to organizations where their spouses and children work. Norm Dicks (D-WA) ranks atop this story, having delivered a $1.8 million earmark to the Washington state environmental agency where his son worked as executive director.
We’ve done so much work on earmarks here. It’s a shame to see them still having their corrosive effects.
What to do about all this?
Get mad? Waste of time and energy.
Campaign to get the baddies out of office? You could, but that’s a lot of work without much reward.
Around here, we think the way to fix this problem is to increase transparency. Make this kind of thing easier to figure out for more people and it will be harder for members of Congress to do themselves and their kin favors like this.
A report out of the Cato Institute last September (written by yours truly) discussed the things that Congress and the rest of the federal government to make information about their doings more available. It’s called “Publication Practices for Transparent Government.” Cato has also graded how well Congress publishes information (summary: poorly) and how well the government publishes information about budgeting, appropriating and spending (summary: also poorly).
Reading up on this will help you understand what transparency can do in this area, and we think it can do a lot.
Here on WashingtonWatch.com, we have a petition supporting transparency called “We Want an Orderly and Transparent Congress. Logged-in users can comment on the petition page, where we will begin organizing people when the time is right. The more people signed on to that petition, the better! Tell your friends! Once we reach critical mass, we’ll go to work on pressing Congress to change itself so that the corruption in government is at least minimized.