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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Corruption Built in to Feds’ Business Model

Quick! Name a corruption-free government.

It’s a fact that corruption is everywhere there is money, but in private industry, it can be controlled with proper inventory and spending controls. Government, on the other hand, has portions where there is no inventory, just influence. And influence is hard to inventory.

As a Navy officer in a minor military role of heading a large recruiting and reserve area of California, I was having dinner one night in a restaurant. The owner approached me and asked if I had anything to do with the Navy ships that came to that port.

I told him I did. He said, “My brother owns the ship’s chandlers in port, and if you could arrange for the ships to buy their provisions from him, there will always be a room at our hotel, a car, and a woman available.”

I dined elsewhere from then on.

In a society where almost everyone under the age of 25 believes it is all right to steal music online, the corruption quotient of the nation is only likely to increase.

Some countries are worse than others, and ours is about as good as it is going to get, but Ronald Reagan said (probably not originally) that, “Any government powerful enough to give you anything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have.”

And that is the problem. Government , local, state and national , is by far the biggest “business” in America. It transfers billions of dollars an hour, and tens of thousands of people have the ability to dole out lots of “perks.” All big businesses have various amounts of corruption, but nothing can match government because nobody has the power that the 535 members of Congress have, and few politicians ever saw $10,000 at one time that they actually earned before suddenly having control of billions.

But in spite of political power , and their influence is huge , politicians’ power is no match for the K Street lobbyists who can light cigars with $10,000 bills. Washington, D.C.’s K Street gang in reality has no power, but they can offer lavish golf outings, private jets, chalets in the Alps, and for those who want it, an escort for the evening.

A congressman from Iowa, be he Democrat or Republican, can be blinded by the bright lights, and because members of Congress have power but no money, some are willing to trade some of the power for some of the money. (Or perks equal to money.)

These are people with power yet have holes in their shoes who are surrounded by the rich and famous every day. The congressional reps dress up in their shiniest off-the-rack suit, yet later that night at a glittering D.C. cocktail party, they must shake hands with K Street gangsters in their custom-tailored $3,000 designer suits.

A vote here, a phone call there, and voila, “Duke” Cunningham drives a Rolls and lives in Rancho Santa Fe. He suddenly feels the equal of anyone!

I mean, congressional reps make tons of phone calls; what’s one more?

I don’t think we should pay them more; we should insulate them from being able to influence the transfer of contracts or anything with monetary value. A Contracts Division should do that only with bids. Once a decision is made as to contracting something, nothing a congressional representative says or does should have any more influence.

So long as a few members of Congress can influence billions of dollars , making some people rich, and others paupers , corruption will happen.

It is possible that people influenced corporations to give them contracts and that money changed hands, but it never happened anywhere near me. The only time I was ever approached to take a bribe was when I was in the government!

There are just too many people in government who can do you a favor , either give you something or keep the government from doing something to you. That is not true in the business world.

The stakes of government to help you are so high (trillions a year), and their ability to hurt you are so great (just an investigation can ruin you for life), that you will play ball.

On the local level, the theories hold. There are lobbyists with huge war chests. Some are for favorable assistance, some to pay for protection against planned regulation that would harm the bottom line. On the political side are mostly unsuccessful individuals who enjoy their power but not their moderate existence when compared with the lobbyists and their employers.

Politics plays out on both the small municipal stages of the nation and the larger stage of Congress.

Power for use or sale. The temptation to live larger than a modest government salary can be a terrific lure.

When you are a politician, you get invited to terrific parties, teas or just campaign meetings in some of the most luxurious homes around America.

People who couldn’t aspire to own a Lexus suddenly see a Bentley. People who have seldom seen an original painting of any sort suddenly see a real Rubens. People who bought their kitchen pressboard cabinets from Lowe’s see custom Koa cabinetry. Upward mobility beckons for the price of a phone call, or a vote that can be explained for other reasons.

Political corruption is endemic but not universal. There are many politicians who actually want to do right, not cheat and work hard. And corruption is worse in some places than in others.

San Diego, however, seems to be the current center of the Corruption Universe, but Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey or Hawaii could steal our thunder any minute.

It’s not that San Diego is actually any worse than any of the above; you expect corruption there, not here.

Our government is so big, so pervasive, so powerful and growing so fast under both political parties that there is little that can control it or even slow it. When added to bloated state and local programs, the potential for corruption is so entrenched in the system there’s nothing to dislodge it.

We can’t ask for perfect people, so we need to design a more foolproof system.

Unfortunately, there is no incentive to do so.

Corruption by political figures is accepted, but apparently there are limits. The Duke discovered the limits, but the limits should be a great deal lower.

Allen Polk Hemphill lives in Escondido.


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