George Graham

Should We Expect Elected Officials to Feather Their Nests?

cartoonYou hear it all the time: “Oh, they’re just a bunch of crooks.” That’s the opinion most people seem to have of elected officials. And considering the scandals you read about in “democracies” all over the world, you may be inclined to agree.

From Afghanistan to Zaire, the beat goes on.  It seems that people run for office only to feather their nests when they get elected. And the implications are horrific.

In America, the health care kerfuffle has ripped the scab off an especially septic situation. The media have bestirred themselves enough to look into the hidden influences at work in the “debate.” And what they’ve found is deeply disturbing. Health care profiteers have donated millions to the campaign chests of politicians responsible for reining them in. It’s no wonder that real health care “reform” is getting nowhere despite all the chatter. It seems inevitable that the health insurance companies will emerge with even fatter profits, some of which will go back to the politicians who are rigging the “reform” process in their favor.

To me, that’s just plain corruption, but it is completely legal. Also legal is the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” culture in Washington, where wives and daughters of elected representatives are often hired by interests that depend on the politicians to look out for them in Congress. Examples are too numerous to mention, but the case of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh stands out because it could have had such far-reaching effects.

bayhA new book by Barack Obama’s campaign manager discloses that Bayh (photo at right) was a “coin toss” away from becoming the President’s running mate last year. In “The Audacity to Win,” David Plouffe quotes candidate Obama as saying his choice for vice president was a toss-up between Bayh and Joe Biden. That sends chills down my spine.

Consider that one of Obama’s main campaign planks – perhaps the main campaign plank – was health care reform, and consider that Bayh’s wife, Susan, has reportedly earned at least $2 million over the past six years as a member of the board of WellPoint, a major health insurer. According to news reports, Susan Bayh joined WellPoint’s board in 1998, while her husband was governor of Indiana. In addition to her director’s pay, she has profited handsomely from selling WellPoint stock.

What was Obama thinking? Does nobody vet his choices? Did his advisers know about the Bayh family’s involvement in the health care industry? How could they have sanctioned a vice presidential selection so diametrically opposed to Obama’s professed goal of reforming health care?

Could it be that hypocrisy and deception are so endemic to Washington that no one noticed the conflict of interest?

Every day, I read about some new scandal involving government officials. Currently, the House ethics committee is investigating no fewer than 30 members of Congress. The list includes many highly respected and powerful politicians. According to the Washington Post, seven members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense are “under scrutiny” by the committee. They are Reps. John Murtha (D-PA), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), James Moran (D-VA), Norm Dicks (D-WA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS).

And the ethics committee has announced it is launching a full investigation of Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Laura Richardson (D-CA). The Waters matter focuses on her alleged intervention to get bailout funds for a bank in which her husband held stock. Richardson allegedly failed to disclose real estate assets and got special treatment involving a foreclosure on her home.

Meanwhile, a report from Alaska today spotlights the corruption rampant in that state. Two ex-officials of VECO Corporation were sentenced for paying members of the Alaska legislature about $395,000 to get their votes. Former CEO Bill J. Allen got 36 months. He must also pay a $750,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release. Former Vice President Richard L. Smith got 21 months. He must pay a $10,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release.

I could go on and on. You probably recall many similar cases over the years. Legally and illegally, elected representatives are bought and sold like chattel in America while officials shake their heads sanctimoniously and tut-tut  over the “corrupt government in Afghanistan.” (Ironically, it’s the American CIA that’s promoting some of the corruption over there.)

Of course, America is not alone. Corruption is rife everywhere. It has been going on forever, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to stamp it out.

About the author

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com