Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Government Integrity Analyzed

A consortium led by the Center for Public Integrity, a "nonpartisan" watchdog group, released a report on the integrity of state-level governments on Monday.

Not one state got an "A," the breakdown was 5 "B"s, 19 "C"s, 18 "D"s, and 8 "F"s.

I found it particularly telling that this "nonpartisan" watchgroup did not issue grades for either the District of Columbia or the federal government.

Here's how they begin their lament.
In Georgia, more than 650 government employees accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the state in 2007 and 2008, clearly violating state ethics law. The last time the state issued a penalty on a vendor was 1999.

A North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state. When the ethics commission reviewed the case, it found no conflict; after all, the panel reasoned, the legislation would benefit all billboard owners in the state – not just the lawmaker who pushed for the bill.

Tennessee established its ethics commission six years ago, but has yet to issue a single ethics penalty. It’s almost impossible to know whether the oversight is effectively working, because complaints are not made available to the public.

A West Virginia governor borrowed a car from his local dealership to take it for a “test drive.” He kept the car for four years, during which the dealership won millions in state contracts.

When representatives of a biotech company took Montana legislators out to dinner, they neither registered as lobbyists nor reported the fact that they picked up the bill.
Fair condemnations, to be sure. Of course, nobody in Congress accepts gifts from vendors like they do in Georgia. In DC, they only accept "donations" labeled as "campaign contributions." At least as far as we know. Discounting William J. Jefferson and his freezer full of cash, of course. Insider trading is still legal for federal legislators, unlike the rest of us, (although they assure us that's going to change real soon now) making the North Carolina legislator's billboard ownership look positively benign in comparison.

Charlie Rangel got censured for misconduct for failing to pay all his taxes, filing misleading financial statements, improperly seeking money from corporate interests for a college center bearing his name and setting up a campaign office in a subsidized, New York apartment designated for residential use," but he's still in office after that wrist-slap. Whether that's a more admirable record than that of the Tennessee ethics commission is open for debate.

Compared to the folks in Montana, who suffer from their legislators dining with unregistered lobbyists, we can rest easy, knowing that lobbyists who fly congressional delegates (and their spouses) around the world on "fact-finding" expeditions are doing it for the good of the country, having appropriately registered as lobbyists and recorded that they bought paid for everybody everything legally.

As for that West Virginia legislator borrowing a car for four years? What a piker. President Obama just recently whistled up taxpayer-funded transport to take his thirteen-year-old daughter and twelve friends to Oaxaca, Mexico for spring break. Never mind that the United States State Department and the Texas Department of Public safety both recommend that we little people avoid Mexico due to violence. She took 25 Secret Service agents along for protection, and the local police jumped in to help out as well. I'm sure there are any number of spring break destinations in Florida where those dollars would have been just as appreciated as they were in Mexico. It's also interesting that contrary to repeated blather about "transparency" in the Obama administration, even the story about this litte junket seems to be disappearing from the web.

Can anyone seriously claim that the following (with a couple of language adjustments) doesn't apply to the federal government as well as those of the states? Every statement in the following paragraphs could be as easily documented on the federal level as those in the preceeding ones. I'll leave that as an exercise for my readers. Google is your friend. You can't expect this Tireless Agorist to spoon-feed you everything.
The stories go on and on. Open records laws with hundreds of exemptions. Crucial budgeting decisions made behind closed doors by a handful of power brokers. “Citizen” lawmakers voting on bills that would benefit them directly. Scores of legislators turning into lobbyists seemingly overnight. Disclosure laws without much disclosure. Ethics panels that haven’t met in years.

State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption.
The same issues arise, the same lofty promises and claims are made at the federal level. And the same failures are apparent to anyone who bothers to look any farther than the talking heads on the nightly news or the editorial pages of the major newspapers and news magazines.

Not surprisingly, The New York Times was quick to swoop in and use this report of the shocking conditions in the states in honor of the Beltway Gang, with nary a word about the impact of concentrating all that power in one place.
State governments have long been accused of backroom dealing, cozy relationships with moneyed lobbyists, and disconnection from ordinary citizens. A new study suggests those accusations barely scratch the surface.
...
The report shows that most statehouses can barely be trusted to maintain the rudiments of good government. Without deep reforms, they certainly should not be asked to handle more federal programs on which millions rely.
Yet they seem perfectly content to leave these programs in the hands of Congress, which currently enjoys an 11.3% approval rating from the American people.

When they speak of federal programs on which millions rely, I assume they're speaking of such successful federal programs as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, all of which are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Or perhaps they're speaking of the Federal Reserve, which has destroyed the purchasing value of the dollar, the Community Reinvestment Act that brought down the housing market, or the similar programs responsible for the about-to-pop higher-education bubble.

Perhaps they should apply the same standards to Washington D.C. as they do to the states, and recognize the insanity of allowing any small group of individuals control over a society and an economy on which more than 300 million people rely.

It seems to me that "This unethical group is better than that unethical group" is hardly a serious argument in support of the centralized management of society.

Although that argument seems to keep people reliably voting for "the lesser of two evils," so apparently, it works.

...and that's all I have to say about that.

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