Politics: November 2005 Archives

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from California, resigned today and pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion. (Here's the AP story. Hat tip to Dan Lovejoy.) Cunningham took $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for steering defense contracts to certain contractors. (I haven't been able to find out yet how he, as an individual congressman, was able to make that happen, but if he was, that needs to be fixed.)

What I find interesting is the method used for one of the larger bribes. Mitchell Wade, head of a defense contractor called MZM, purchased a home from Cunningham for $1.675 million, then sold it a year later for $975,000. The Realtor who set the price for the sale by Cunningham to Wade was a campaign contributor to Cunningham. That amounts to $700,000 in Cunningham's pocket that wouldn't show up as a payment or a gift, even though that's exactly what it was.

Remember Speaker of the House Jim Wright? As a source of extra income, he compiled and published a vanity book of speeches and notes called Reflections of a Public Man, and to help him get around limits on outside income, groups would buy crates of the thing, and then warehouse them or throw them away. If I recall correctly, there were no limits on book royalties for House members, but there were limits on speaking fees and other sources of income, intended to prevent the use of such fees as a way to influence a congressman. Wright resigned as Speaker and from Congress in 1989 under that ethical cloud.

Two points to make:

(1) The more power is concentrated in any one individual to direct public money for private profit, the more likely bribery becomes. Procurement procedures with checks and balances may take more time and cost more money, but they discourage this kind of abuse.

(2) Bribes aren't given as bundles of cash in a brown paper bag anymore. If you see a government official consistently steering business to a handful of close associates, and you're looking for a quo to go along with a quid, you ought to look at any opportunity to render payment to a public official (home sales, salaries, services rendered) and see if that payment is in excess of market prices or customary rates.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from November 2005.

Politics: October 2005 is the previous archive.

Politics: January 2006 is the next archive.

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