Corruption Comes in Many Flavors

One of the elements of the recent McCutcheon decision that has had many lawyers shaking their heads is the majority’s airy dismissal of concerns about the many ways dollars corrupt the system.

The majority limited the definition of corruption to the receipt of a quid pro quo.

Now, obviously, the exchange of money for a legislator’s vote is a corrupt act. It is also illegal. The majority seems to believe that only such blatant and illegal acts–outright bribes–are unethical.

If that cramped understanding of the ethical obligations of citizens and public servants carries the day, it won’t take long until we inhabit a society that has lost whatever is left of its moral center.

Let’s look at a couple of examples that are currently playing locally.

State Representative Eric Turner is currently being investigated for working feverishly behind the scenes to derail a law that would have hurt his son’s nursing home business. (According to the Indianapolis Star last Sunday, Turner also had significant personal investments that would have been negatively affected by the legislation.) If the allegations are proven, Turner is probably guilty of breaking a law, although that isn’t entirely clear–but even if his behavior didn’t actually violate a statute, is there any doubt that such actions were unethical?

Then there’s the smoke alarm ordinance that I blogged about awhile back. Counselor Scales (who seems to be the only City-County Counselor at all concerned about the fact that it would hand one vendor a probable monopoly) asked for and received an opinion from legal counsel. She was told that an offer–a quid pro quo, actually–that didn’t enrich anyone personally isn’t a violation of the City’s ethics ordinance.

If you’ll recall, the ordinance would require property owners to purchase smoke alarms with non-removable, non-replaceable “sealed” batteries with a ten-year life.  The company that manufactures those alarms, and would benefit from the requirement, promised IFD “free smoke detectors, payment for TV and radio public-service announcements, press events and donations to IFD-favored charities” in exchange for IFD’s support for the ordinance.

No firefighter was bribed, but the department would certainly benefit from the “generosity” of the vendor–and needless to say, the vendor would benefit financially from passage of that ordinance. IFD didn’t solicit “bids” and didn’t give other smoke alarm companies an opportunity to match the “gifts.” That said, no law was broken. The Ethics ordinance wasn’t violated.

The McCutcheon majority would dismiss these–and countless similar examples–as mere persuasion. Free speech. The prerogative of those who are engaged in commerce.

The fact that such behaviors take place behind closed doors is a pretty good indication that the people involved know that such activities–legal or not–aren’t kosher. Legal doesn’t equal ethical, no matter how disconnected from reality the Court’s majority remains.


  1. Using the terms “ethics” and “GOP” in the same sentence is an oxymoron. Hey; I just realized that “moron” is a fitting term for today’s GOP.

  2. The vaunted “job creators” are treated as fonts of all worldly wisdom. Many of them lavish their favored candidates (and candidate-allied PACs) with millions in “speech” from not just their personal accounts, but from their business accounts. If they are really astute business moguls, then they wouldn’t just write checks from their business accounts expecting nothing in return, would they?

    Even if it doesn’t constitute a legal quid pro quo, there’s still a transaction taking place.

  3. Just so we can be bipartisan here, let me give you a better example of how campaign contributions corrupt in a non-criminal sense.

    When Bill Clinton was president, he initially supported a bankruptcy reform bill being considered by the Congress. First Lady Hillary Clinton read an article that explained how the reform bill would clobber consumers. She took that information to President Clinton, and he ended up vetoing that bill.

    Fast forward some years when Senator Hillary Clinton has to vote on very similar bankruptcy reform legislation. As a Senator, she voted for the bill. She also happened to receive some $800,000 in campaign contributions from the financial industry (which wanted the bill passed, of course). Senator Clinton said the contributions had nothing to do with how she voted, and we can accept that at face value. But the appearance that the contributions made a difference corrupts our ability to believe that our elected representatives are doing what’s best for everyone.

    That’s what the five Supreme Court justices don’t get. As I’ve said elsewhere: If reinforcing faith in our political system is not a compelling government interest that justifies limiting free expression rights, I am hard pressed to figure out what would qualify as a compelling government interest.

  4. Thanks for that Bill Wilson. Do you have a link to share about that information about Hillary?

  5. Ethics, ethics…we don’t have no stinkin’ ethics! Regarding that smoke alarm situation you mentioned; I just replaced my special alarm with blaring siren and flashing strobe on sale for $83. It is for hearing impaired and deaf; if that hair-brained bill should happen to pass, would I have to also purchase one of them or be in violation of the law? Just askin’

  6. Unless I actually knew who these people were, I would think that they must be Chinese or Russian spies out to do-in the system by exploiting its weaknesses. They operate like the term “common good” must be from some exotic ancient language.

  7. Stuart; it isn’t an exotic language but has certainly become an ancient one.

  8. Regarding the “run, Liz, run” comments along with urging Hillary to run in 2016; there are issues to be considered which I believe both of these strong, intelligent, capable women are more aware of than the general public – the voters. Think about the anti-women attitude, media frenzy, with laws, rules, regulations and ordinances being passed against women by the GOP run by Tea Party, Koch brothers, NRA and pseudo religious, Bible thumping politicians due to the wealth backing them. Much of their action (sadly, successful) is primarily to go against the black man in the White House…election twice by American voters. They will double – triple if possible – all actions and billions of contributions now made legal by the SCOTUS to prevent a woman from sitting in the White House other than as First Lady. I will vote for either of them if they are chosen to run but have no faith that the Democratic Party can win against the GOP wealth and Bible quotes. Here’s a thought; should by some miracle Liz or Hillary were to be elected, would their presidential annual income be the same as the men who sat before them?

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