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Corruption in government

The United States is prone to level criticism of second- and third-world countries where government corruption is a part of everyday life. A payoff is part of just about every action involving government officials. In many of these countries, a dictator has usurped power and uses that power to amass personal wealth for himself, his extended family, and his most loyal supporters, with total disregard for anyone else. Examples of this kind of abuse of power are Iraq, where Saddam Hussein built himself numerous extravagant palaces at the expense of his people, and Equatorial Guinea, where the enormous wealth from the country’s oil riches is kept by the ruling family while the people live in poverty.Among first-world countries, Russia, in which virtually nothing is accomplished without a payoff, is held up as a glaring example. But Russia is not the only first-world country we could point a finger at.But what about the good old U. S. of A.? Are we free of the kind of corruption we see in the rest of the world, where those who have risen to power consider that a license to steal?It is true that unlike so many other countries, payoffs to our government officials are illegal and are severely punished. But there is a more insidious form of corruption going on right under our noses, and it is an unintended consequence of our political system.Money is the lifeblood of anyone who hopes to be elected to office, or hopes to stay in that office. Nowhere is this more true than in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. To get elected to a term in the House costs millions of dollars, and for a tern in the Senate the cost can exceed $10 million. To stay in the office, senators and representatives must raise at least $5,000 a day every day of their term of office, and that figure keeps going up with every election.Confronted with this need for money, our senators and representatives face the daily temptations offered by lobbyists representing special interests who can hint that a favorable vote on a piece of legislation that affects their clients can be rewarded with a generous campaign contribution. Then that senator or representative may have to choose between representing the interests of the people who elected him, and the interests of those whose money he needs to stay in office. Over time this can become so much a part of political survival that the line becomes blurred, and members of Congress yield to the temptation of accepting personal bribes for their votes, as in the case of Reps. Randy Cunningham of California and William Jefferson of Louisiana.What should be done to rectify this situation? First the campaign period should be reduced to just a few weeks before the election, as is the case in the British Parliament. Second, limits should be placed on the amount that can be spent on the campaign of each candidate. The success of a campaign should be based on the content rather than the sheer volume of the material they put out. This would also help to level the playing field between incumbent and challenger.Of course these reforms won’t stand a chance because the lobbyists for the news media will convince those in Congress that it would be a bad decision to vote in favor of a measure which would reduce news media income and could have a detrimental effect on their campaign contributions. And what incumbent would want to give a challenger an even playing field?


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