What "culture of corruption" really means

Thursday, August 17, 2006 at 11:00 AM

It didn't take Republicans long to start muddying the waters on the claim that there is a "culture of corruption" in Republican-controlled DC.  They wasted little time jumping on occasional stories of Democratic financial corruption, like the Congressman Jefferson episode.

Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham are probably the new poster boys for the most obvious form of corruption, but it would be a huge mistake to think of the "culture of corruption" as limited to taking money that you shouldn't have taken or giving money that you shouldn't have given.  You certainly can be corrupt without directly and immediately enriching yourself financially.

You have to start with a brief definition.  The primary definition of corruption from the 'lectric law library (emphasis added):

CORRUPTION - An act done with an intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. It includes bribery, but is more comprehensive; because an act may be corruptly done, though the advantage to be derived from it be not offered by another.

An act...inconsistent with official duty.  That certainly does not require the direct involvement of cash or other hard assets like Duke Cunningham's house.

Nor, as Norman Ornstein points out, does corruption describe only those acts which are specifically illegal. As he states:

...it is not what is illegal that is the outrage, to use the old phrase, but rather what is legal.   buying land and selling it after securing earmarks that add to its value is the political equivalent of insider trading. It is simply wrong.

You cannot escape the label "corrupt" merely by pointing out that you cannot be prosecuted for what you did.

The current crop of Republicans is, indeed, immersed in a culture of corruption, especially the kind of corruption that consists of perverting official duties to some private, ideological purposes.

In other words, the actual culture of corruption describes both the massive giving and taking of financial reward for purposes that are, at best, only marginally legal (DeLay's and Abramoff's abuse of non-profit laws and organizations), and the countless ways in which the Bush administration, its appointees, and its Republican allies in congress have consistently performed their official duties not for official purposes, but to achieve private and/or partisan purposes.

Properly understood, the concept of corruption must be expanded to include the operation of the system of government which is the foundation for our entire society.

This Republican corruption encompasses:

++Corruption of government agencies, such as exhibited at the DOJ Civil Rights division

++Corruption of the process by which policy decisions are made, such as censoring scientific input into government decisions

++Corruption of essentially the entire government structure and process, such as changing ethics rules to protect those who have broken them; not releasing reports intended to be public; keeping presidential papers confidential far longer; writing legislation without any knowledge or input from the minority party; earmarks and other pork slipped into bills in the middle of the night without any indication of who slipped them in; repeated payments to private citizens to tout administration policies.

In essence, the Republican have created a culture in which there is a tremendous gap between the apparent motives for any action and the real motives for that action.  And the real motives are, indeed, inconsistent with official duty and with the rights of others.

Appointees to head an agency are chosen with the intent of hindering that agency's official task, to the detriment of the people the agency is designed to serve.  Policy is adopted which serves the interest of a few private citizens, when the law imposes a duty to adopt policy for the benefit of the nation as a whole.  Laws which are inconvenient, such as those requiring the release of embarrassing information, are ignored at will, in the knowledge that the majority of legislators will abdicate their duty of enforcement.

The very process by which legislation is created is corrupted to serve political purposes, as longstanding rules are broken at will, whenever convenient to obtain the passage of legislation that will itself have a corrupt purpose.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying two things:

  1. There is certainly a Republican culture of corruption, in a very broad and meaningful sense.

  2. The corruption is of the purpose of government, which has been twisted from "governance" to "avoiding governance."

This is government by a wink and a nod, not by law.  And it matters not how much of the corruption is technically legal.