US Capital Building (Text by Bernard Starr)
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My apology to traditional prostitutes--there are some things they won't do--who have more integrity than many members of Congress.
Journalist Jimmy Williams was a Congressional lobbyist for six years. He quit because "My conscience couldn't take it anymore."
Williams provides insight into how influence peddling in Congress works: "Every fundraiser was yet another legal bribe. Every committee hearing I'd look up and think, I just bought his vote. And every time I got a bill passed or, better yet, killed, I'd think to myself, 'That wouldn't have worked if I hadn't bought the outcome.'"
The political system that Jimmy Williams describes is similar to the workings of a "cathouse": prostitutes in servitude to their pimps.
In 2008 Rod Blagojevich, Governor of Illinois was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for his attempts to sell the Senate seat that was vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
In true capitalistic fashion, Blagojevich was selling a commodity--a Senate seat that he controlled--to the highest bidder. But he didn't tell the bidders how they must vote. What he did was illegal for which he is paying a steep price.
Yet it's not illegal for members of Congress to sell their votes to the highest bidders (lobbyists and others contributing to their campaign war chests), even if those votes are contrary to their beliefs, conscience, or moral principles.
This sellout registers at the bottom of the morality scale. But why this form of bribery isn't illegal is puzzling. Webster's dictionary gives the following example of the act or practice of giving or taking a bribe: "They were arrested on charges of bribery."
I posed the question about political bribery as a crime to Frank Askin, General Counsel Emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union and founder and former director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of law in Newark. Askin has successfully litigated many landmark civil rights and social justice cases.
"The problem lies with the Supreme Court," Askin said. "A majority believes that money is speech under the First Amendment. As such the Court ruled 5 to 4 in the 2010 case of 'Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission' that anyone, including corporations, can spend unlimited funds in support of a candidate so long as it is not coordinated with the candidate's campaign."
For it to be a crime, he added: "You would essentially have to prove collusion between the spender and the candidate. The Court majority also has a very narrow definition of corruption, as demonstrated by the Bob Menendez case. Basically, the prosecution has to prove a clear quid pro quo--as in 'I'll give you $50,000 if you vote for Bill X.'"
I then asked, Does that mean that many Congressional votes are probably based on criminal bribery but just can't be proven? "That's a reasonable assumption," Askin replied.
At the end of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona inspired us by what appeared to be an act of conscience and morality by calling for an FBI investigation of allegations against Judge Kavanaugh by professor Christine Blasey Ford before he would vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation in the final Senate vote--an investigation strongly supported by the public but opposed by other Congressional Republicans.
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