Congressional Support for Corrupt Colleagues
We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, members of Congress helping and protecting corrupt colleagues. Is it because the helpers know they may be under attack in the future and hope they’ll be assisted in their hour of need by their peers? Or is it merely payback for past help they received?
Standing by corrupt colleagues is one of the few actions both parties can agree upon, showing that bipartisanship is not completely dead, though Democrats tend to come to the aid of Democrats and Republicans to other Republicans. This is one of the reasons unethical and even frankly corrupt behavior is rampant in Congress, and why public approval of this august body remains at such low levels. The old boy (and girl?) network always appears ready to come to the rescue of beleaguered fellow members, unless the action is so egregious, it cannot be explained away. But reasons to excuse white collar crimes can always be found.
The latest example of this behavior is the contributions to the campaign of Congressman Charles Rangel of New York by more than a dozen of his Democratic colleagues in the House. Rangel had been censured by the House Ethics Committee in 2010 after having been found guilty of eleven counts of ethics violations. These included a failure to pay taxes, inaccurately reporting his personal income on required House documents and improperly soliciting campaign contributions. He was also penalized for using a rent stabilized apartment as a campaign office. But none of this kept other Democrats from offering financial and emotional support for Rangel’s re-election. Shame on them.
To show that this is bipartisan in nature one only has to look at the conduct of the Republicans who came to the aid of Tom DeLay of Texas when he was under the gun. As a starter, DeLay was heavily involved with the K Street project and with Abramoff’s schemes, and members of DeLay’s staff went to prison because of their criminal involvement with Abramoff. DeLay was indicted in September of 2005 by a Texas grand jury for illegal campaign contributions to Texas legislative candidates, and for conspiracy and money laundering. However, to keep DeLay as House Majority Leader after he was charged, the GOP Conference in Congress changed its rule stipulating that members had to surrender leadership posts if under indictment. But harsh reaction by the media to this move caused them to back down and DeLay had to surrender that post. Shortly afterward, he resigned from Congress rather than standing for re-election, believing that he would lose. Never-the-less, he was not abandoned by his Republican colleagues. A legal defense fund to help him fight the charges raised $600,000 for him, most of it from his fellow GOP members of Congress. In November of 2010, DeLay was convicted of money-laundering and sentenced to three years in prison.
The brief stories of what occurred with Rangel and DeLay are incomplete, with attempts by members of Congress to manipulate the House Ethics Committee, a fairly ineffectual body, to whitewash these corrupt Congressmen as they had done with others. And so it goes when any Congressional colleagues’ corrupt behavior sees the light of day.
Can corruption in Congress be stopped? It’s hard to imagine anything happening when Congress writes its own rules, sits in judgment of its own members, and offers support to those who’ve been censured for corrupt activities or even criminally indicted.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.