Unfortunately we live in a time of widespread corruption, misuse of power, as well as both lesser and more serious crimes against people and/or society at large.
One of the more unforgivable transgressions, to me (aside from murder), is a politician’s betrayal of the public trust. Here we have a person voted into office by Main Street USA to do a job, and to do it to the best of his or her abilities. And they are compensated well for their work and the benefits, well, those will be the subject of another blog.
This one is about trust.
I do not know of any public official swearing-in ceremony where doing their best includes corruption or bribery or even taking leave for many days with no method of contact.
As an example, Randall “Duke” Cunningham, pled guilty of accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes.
Two million four hundred thousand dollars in bribes.
That is the equivalent of someone working for, and taking home, $60,000 per year for 40 years!
Bribes are, of course, illegal. For Duke, the payoffs came from defense contractors and he did plead guilty.
I believe that a publicly elected official taking money from an organization to gain favor is nothing less than Treason. That is why Duke should not receive his Congressional pension. Last I heard, that is not the case. Elected officials guilty of bribery are still eligible to collect a pension.
One reason is that our government officials have a more limited view of treason than do I. The typical application of that word relating to an elected person is a violation of allegiance to the state or of attempting to overthrow the state or selling secrets of the state.
Those have to do with the state, not the public trust, which is interesting because the public elected the person, not the state. To me, a violation or betrayal of the public trust is clearly a treasonous activity.
So why is Duke eligible to collect pension?
It seems as though our elected officials may believe that they are not necessarily above the law, but above some of the laws. Then again, they are the ones who write the laws…
Why is it that Wall Street and Main Street are expected to follow all of the rules and regulations that are imposed and, if not, face the consequences. And, not that I condone AIG executives receiving lavish bonuses (because I do not), what really is the difference between an AIG exec receiving a bonus and Duke who pled guilty to bribery but remains eligible to receive public funds?
Before I leave Duke’s example there is one other thing I did not understand about the judgment and his sentencing. Duke received $2.4 million in bribes but only had to pay $1.8 million in restitution. That makes it appear as if Duke was able to keep $600,000 of illegally gained money (whether he had spent it or not). What a bonus! (for lack of a better word.)
The above is serious abuse by an elected individual to receive illegal monetary rewards. Duke is but one example. There have been others.
Then there is the better-than-thou type. From all that I have read, Governor Mark Sanford (SC) was a harsh critic, voting to impeach President Clinton from office for lying about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. Sanford said “…what he did in this matter was reprehensible.”
Fast forward to June 2009 and Gov Sanford goes AWOL. His aides tell media that they think he went hiking in the Appalachian Trail. As we all now know, he had been in Argentina with another woman.
How is it that Sanford could be so adamant about Clinton being impeached but he feels he should be able to maintain his office?
The apparent difference is that Sanford admitted his affair and Clinton first lied about his. True, that is a difference. However, Sanford was, even worse, AWOL. His duty and responsibility to the state of South Carolina comes first. And, if he is not able to be reached when gone, proper transition of power should have been granted to the Lt. Governor. Anything less is purely dereliction of duty.
In the military, the maximum penalty is a bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of pay and six months confinement duty. Because he did come clean for the affair, but was absent without official leave, perhaps Sanford should not pay the maximum penalty but I do not think that he should retain public office. Nor should he be allowed to collect a pension. He was AWOL.
Corruption charges, dereliction of duty and other acts that violate the public trust should not be rewarded. They should be punished. They should not stay in office. They should not collect pensions. They should be fully and totally accountable to Main Street USA, to the people who elected them.
Perhaps by enforcing appropriate penalties our elected officials will be more honest with Main Street USA and with themselves and can start to earn back the Trust they have lost.
Over For Now,
Main Street One