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Our Government Is Corrupt Through and Through -- Where's the Outrage?

When politicians get caught taking bribes, it's big news, but most people take the usual legal corruption for granted.
 
 
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Last week, jurors in a federal bribery case got a taste of good, old-fashioned corruption as New Orleans' former chief technology officer, Greg Mefford, offered the prurient details of how one vendor, Mark St. Pierre, plied city officials with almost $900,000 in bribes and kickbacks that included luxurious travel, the use of a yacht and boozy, good-old-boy poker parties complete with the requisite hookers.

The story represents the kind of corruption that makes splashy headlines, and of course, rightly outrages people. But the impact of this kind of criminality on our governance pales beside that of the everyday, entirely legal kind of corruption most people seem to take more or less for granted.

Consider just a few items "ripped from the headlines" during the past few weeks.

  • On Monday, Politico reported that almost a third of the “blue dog” Democrats who left office or were defeated in last year's midterms are now working as corporate lo bbyists. “The conservative Blue Dogs formed a key voting bloc for much of the last congressional session,” reporter Aaren Mehta noted, “drawing impressive fundraising from the energy, financial services and health care industries.” The blue dogs were instrumental in watering down or blocking key Democratic legislation in both the House and the Senate. With their mission accomplished on everything from health-care reform to financial regulation, Politico notes that “industry groups [then] abandoned the pro-business coalition in favor of its GOP opponents.”

  • An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that “House members who defeated a measure to...end certain subsidies for oil companies received five times more in campaign contributions, on average, from the oil and gas industry in the 2010 election cycle than those who voted to proceed with the motion.”

  • House members who voted to continue the subsidies received, on average, five times more money in 2010 from oil and gas interests. Those voting to block debate received $36,066, on average, in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests. Those who voted to begin debate received, on average, $7,192 in campaign contributions from the industry.

  • Overall, members who voted to continue the subsidies received more than $8.7 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests in 2010 while those opposed raised just $1.2 million.

  • 16 of the 18 U.S. House members who received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from the industry in 2010 voted to block debate. One voted to proceed and a second did not vote.

  • Last week, in a move that would prove eye-opening for even the most cynical good-government types, FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker announced that she would be leaving her position early to take a cushy lobbying job for Comcast just months after approving its controversial merger with NBC. As Free Press director Timothy Karr noted, she wasn't the first: “Many have found the FCC to be a particularly lucrative launching pad,” he wrote. “Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell now earns millions as the top lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group that lobbies for the industry he was tasked to regulate.”

  • Even those supposedly neutral arbiters in the courts aren't standing above the political fray when big money is concerned. American University legal scholar Herman Schwartz noted last week that Justice Sam Alito attended a series of pricey fundraisers held by the right-wing American Spectator, and Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have both “allowed their names and office to be used for fundraising and other partisan activities.”

Each has attended big strategy and fundraising meetings held semiannually by brothers Charles and David Koch, among the wealthiest and most active of all Tea Party and right-wing financiers....

 
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