Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

6-1 Culture of Corruption

FRI, 6-1-06

SANTA FE -- The Culture of Corruption. It's a phrase congressional Democrats plan to use against congressional Republicans in this year's elections.
It may work, but not without some embarrassment, because no political party can ever be sure all its members will stay free of corruption.
Republicans have had their share of corruption. There's Jack Abramoff and his slimy associates. Most of their payoffs were made to Republicans, but about the time Democrats began to have a good time with it, some of their won fell into the abyss.
People in the business of making payoffs are bipartisan. It's a matter of whatever works. Members of the party in power are the most likely candidates for payoffs, but key votes or party leaders on the minority side of the aisle often work just as well.
Rep. Tom DeLay, of Texas, was having the time of his life throwing his considerable political weight around until it snapped back and got him.
One of the charges against DeLay involves using money he shouldn't have to get the Texas congressional districts redrawn, once Republicans took over all branches of state government a few years ago. That's when New Mexico played host to most of the Texas Democrat senators for a month one summer.
House leaders have had a real problem getting caught with their hand in the wrong pocket. Back in the late '80s, a back-bench Republican named Newt Gingrich brought down Democrat house Speaker Tom Foley over an unethical book deal. Less than 10 years later, Gingrich got caught with his hand in the same jar and had to step down.
Rep. Duke Cunningham, out in California, was the paragon of patriotism until someone noticed he was living far too high even for a well paid member of Congress. Democrats had much fun with that until the FBI decided it ought to investigate Democrat William Jefferson's freezer dishes.
New Mexico Democrats should know better than to accuse anyone else of corruption. Attorney General Patricia Madrid tried it in her challenge to Republican Heather Wilson, but along came investigations of two Democrat state treasurers and a Democrat state insurance superintendent.
Generally, it's the party in power that is the most susceptible to corruption. In Washington, that's the Republicans. In New Mexico, it would be difficult for a Republican state official to get into trouble. After all, there's only one of them.
Patrick Lyons, the state land commissioner has kept his nose pretty clean, except for that charge of buying a pickup for campaigning. For some reason, one of his Democrat opponents figured there was something wrong with using campaign funds for the purpose. I still can't understand that one, but Lyons sold the pickup.
Please don't blame the culture of corruption on politics, however. It reaches much farther than that. No corner of American society is immune. We are seeing captains of industry go down one by one, claiming they didn't know they were doing wrong.
Currently major league baseball players are using the same excuse. They just thought it was magic that the lotion they rubbed on their muscles was making them miraculously bigger.
And yes, even the journalism profession gets tainted, I will admit. Reporters make up sources --and even entire stories. And the government pays them to write columns favorable to programs its agencies are trying to sell to the public.
Even a two-bit columnist like yours truly, gets his share of offers. Fortunately, I don't have to depend on this job to pay the bills. It�s a retirement amusement that keeps me busy -- but not out of trouble.
And America is not the end-all of corruption. Fortunately, it is the exception here. But take a look at many of our neighbors to the south and most of the former Iron Curtain countries to know what corruption really is.
So don't worry too much about us going to the dogs.



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