Saturday, October 01, 2005

Your Corrupt Congress

House Majority Leader and Party Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) have been in the news frequently lately, but there is no shortage of other ethically challenged members among this nation's law makers. The "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington" (CREW) have created a report summarizing 13 congressmen (10 representatives, 3 senators) besides DeLay, and including Frist who have violated various congressional ethics rules, federal laws, or regulations. Ironically, while DeLay has stepped down from his leadership position, his replacement Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is included in the list of 13 ethically challenged. Of course, the list of names is just a start, because many Members of Congress have yet to be investigated thoroughly, including some connected to the indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abranoff and the DeLay situation.

There are mechanisms in government, oversight committees for example, designed to examine these issues. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws via audits. Both the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct are responsible for oversight of congressional ethics and rules. Unfortunately, these committees have been reluctant to rigorously investigate their own members or to enforce the rules. A long term consequence of such malfeasance is a deteriorating democracy slipping into a corporatocracy with little or no public accountability.

A widely suggested solution to this problem of corrupt politics is to implement a policy for public funding of political campaigns. Such a policy would eliminate corporate donations made by exploiting loopholes in current campaign finance laws, and therefore remove their influence over the election process. Our elected officials would truly be beholden to their constituents because the taxpayers will 'own' the candidate.

What DeLay allegedly did to circumvent Texas law which bans corporate donations to political campaigns resembled a money laundering scheme. Basically, corporate money was exchanged for individual donations to the Republican Party, which DeLay used to help expand his party's congressional power. Gerrymandering and redistricting in Texas to favor Republicans were just tools of the trade for DeLay, one of the most successful politicians when it comes to bringing in corporate control for the Republicans. Fortunately, his recent indictment has spurred new debate on moving towards some sort of public funding scheme for political campaigns.

Here is a link to the CREW report summary "Beyond DeLay" that includes the list of 13 ethically challenged Members of Congress and the indiscretions of each:

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