Corrupted by Cheesecake
Friday, October 27, 2006 :::
The Wall Street Journal runs a front page story on globe-trotting congressional delegations and looks into whether they skirt or completely ignore House ethics rules on gifts, meals and other matters. (BTW, the online Journal is free today).
The major focus of the story is Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis:
Rep. Jerry Lewis and seven fellow members of Congress jetted to Europe in July 2003 on official government business and dined in restaurants from Warsaw to Lisbon.
Instead of paying for the meals out of their government allowances, they were treated by a parade of defense contractors and lobbyists, most of which sent personnel to Europe to host the meals, according to foreign-service officials and the companies. The meals gave Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and others private access to legislators who control billions of dollars in government contracts.
There's a lot of material in this piece, some of it enraging (like the age-old practice of congressbeings using military aircraft to ferry themselves and their spouses abroad) and some of it simply silly (were there enough people at the dinner to qualify for a rules exemption? Eh, who's counting?).
While this behavior only strengthens the notion that congressbeings are in it for themselves (and their families, and their staffers, assorted hangers-on and their close friends), there is one small defense which can be made on their behalf:
Dinners do not corrupt. Gifts of $50 or less do not corrupt.
Genuine corruption requires far more -- think Duke Cunningham's millions, or William Jefferson's stash of (literally) cold cash. Genuine corruption is why Bob Ney is heading to jail and why Dan Rostenkowski was bounced from his seat and sent to Club Fed.
That's real corruption. Does this in any way excuse the antics of Lewis and his colleagues? No. If anything, it makes them look like pathetic, small-time grifters. Or arrogant brats.
And there is a cautionary tale here for the GOP and Democrats alike. Stories like this were once quite common in the days right before the 1994 election. They fed the notion that the Democrats were really just a gaggle of grasping pols. And we all know what happened in 1994.
The same thing may happen again this November...thanks to grasping brats like Jerry Lewis.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 10/27/2006