Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Political Ethics

Stop laughing.  The phrase in many peoples’ mind is almost as ludicrous as legal ethics.

You hear phrases like “I can’t be bought for a cup of coffee” on a regular basis.  And that is almost certainly true.  But the price of cups of coffee and sandwiches and rounds of golf and a nice bottle of ’97 Beringer Reserve cab to go with some juicy prime steaks at dinner adds up.

Some years back I represented a state agency defending a lawsuit.  I had to spend a lot of time with two fairly low-level agency employees reviewing and organizing hundreds of boxes of documents.  They took very seriously the agency’s “no gratuities” rule.  Instead of me buying them lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant which my firm did for all clients (yes the client is paying for it at the end of the day in the form of rates that are marginally higher than if the firm did no entertaining) we ate lunch at McDonalds and dinner at Western Sizzler so they could stay within their per diem.

Things have apparently changed since then.  Georgia’s legislators trot out the word “transparency” whenever anyone talks about ethics.  They loudly proclaim they aren’t influenced by free suite tickets at Braves and Falcons games.  The Speaker of the House was unashamed when it was reported last fall that he, aides and his family went on a $17,000 jaunt to Europe paid for by lobbyists.

Then, last week it came out that lobbyists had spent over $200,000 over the last couple of months wining and dining Georgia Representatives’ and Senators’ staffs and that the state’s Ethics Commission had ruled that this spending didn’t have to be disclosed under the current ethics law.  So much for the ameliorative powers of transparency, though they may find time before this year’s session ends to amend the law.

If largesse by lobbyists doesn’t buy influence and votes, just why do you think that companies spend the money?  Just as with the river of campaign contributions, corporations spend millions of dollars a year on politicians with the full expectation that it will get them what they want out of the political process.  Remember, corporations have their stockholders’ interests at heart, not yours and mine. 

Calvin Coolidge said that what’s good for General Motors is good for America.  An honest man old Silent Cal.  He admitted what he thought where the current bunch won’t.  We are becoming at most an afterthought in the minds of our well-fed and well-funded leaders.  Rather than getting what we pay for we are getting what corporations pay for.  And suckers that we are, we keep on inviting them back to feed at the public political trough.


dr sardonicus said...

Again, our political system isn't broken. It works just fine for the people who pay for it.

Jeni said...

I do so totally agree with both you guys on this! Our local rep here (in the State house, that is) has been our rep since 1972 now that makes almost 40 years ya know! Forty years of being bought and paid for, doing very little, talking out of both sides of his face simultaneously (something he really excels at) and various other things and yet, much of the time he doesn't even have an opponent in the elections and when he does, people are still afraid to vote him out! ARRGH!

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of leaning towards becoming a monarchist.

Things wouldn't be any better for us if we had a king, but at least we wouldn't feel guilty, like we were somehow responsible for it.

The Curmudgeon said...

If largesse by lobbyists doesn’t buy influence and votes, just why do you think that companies spend the money?

Because companies are lazy and afraid to create business by building 'better mousetraps' -- they'd rather preserve their market position by lobbying for legislation that tamps down all potential competition.

Because this generation's professional legislators have no other exposure to the outside world. Modern legislators need lobbyists like fish need water. People who make the bulk of their living outside of government, but who choose to serve their fellow citizens, wouldn't have time for lobbyist crap.

That's two reasons. I'll bet there's others.

Dave said...

I think you just agreed with me didn't you Curmudgeon?