Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sliding Over the Line

Four newspaper articles in two papers came together into a political theme – are ethical slips a part of political compromise? Do some people start out venal or do they slip over a line somewhere along the way? Let’s look at each article/case in turn:

The Philadelphia school district “hired a workers’ compensation consultant with no government experience but with two important patrons: Democratic city Councilman Rick Mariano and Republican State House Speaker John Perzel. After Mariano personally introduced Danlin Management to [Paul] Vallas, the newly formed company won a no-bid contract in 2003 ….”

“When Danlin ran into problems in 2004, Perzel’s office stepped in, pressing Vallas to keep paying the company even after senior district staffers had concluded it wasn’t delivering what it had promised, records show.”

And, yes, as you might have guessed, Danlin officials donated money to Perzel’s political campaign.

State Senator Vince Fumo is in trouble again. In his case, the nonprofit he formed to “promote public health, housing, safety and education in the City and County of Philadelphia” paid $17,000 to a political adviser of Fumo’s. The advisor then paid the exact same amount to help pay for a lawsuit against a political enemy of Fumo’s. By law, nonprofit organizations cannot spend money on politics. The lawsuit was against someone who does not live in the city or county of Philadelphia so I’m not sure how the mission of the nonprofit applies. Fumo later helped find a job for the man who brought the lawsuit.

Senator Santorum, in the meantime, is trying to remind everyone the he helped expose the House banking scandal in 1991. Now, 15 years later he is the third ranking senator in Republican leadership and has received more campaign contributions from lobbyists in this election cycle than any other senator or representative in the country.

Freshman Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick has been linked to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients. Fitzpatrick has already donated $21,500 to charity to compensate for campaign contributions from tainted PACS. He has pledged to return another $5,500. Fitzpatrick has taken money from “leadership PACS,” set up by high ranking officials to reward those already in office and to help selected candidates get elected. In other words, this money isn’t coming from Fitzpatrick’s district or even necessarily industries associated with his district. Since his 2004 race began he has received $283,500 from leadership PACS. Given that you can expect to spend two million or more dollars to run for a house seat, this is only a small percentage of what he needs, but it isn’t an amount to sneeze at and can make a difference between buying tv ads and not buying tv ads. Some of the connections are tenuous (in some cases a PAC gave Fitzpatrick more than the PAC received from Abramoff or related groups), other are glaringly obvious.

All of these examples point to one of the biggest problems in politics – the constant need to raise money for campaigns. In all the but Fumo case, what happened isn’t illegal, but voters may look askance. We all want our elected officials to be accountable to us, the constituents, not to party leadership or some lobbyist who buys influence. It is a pipedream but we cling to it nonetheless.

Fitzpatrick and Santorum’s opponents are making sure these questionable donations are kept in the public eye. As Patrick Murphy, a Democratic candidate for Fitzpatrick’s seat says “It might not break the letter of the law, but what (Fitzpatrick’s) doing is breaking the spirit of the law.” And therein lies the rub. We just can’t legislate morality. We can only hope to elect people who won’t be corrupted by the political system once they are elected. Once those people are elected we need to make sure they know we are keeping an eye on things. I don’t mean this in suspicious or negative way (though that works too) but by being active in our communities and going out to community meetings and writing letters so our officials can see that voters are watching and taking an interest. Any neglected property is prone to vandalism and crime. Applying the “broken windows” theory to politics – if you aren’t putting your officials on notice at the sign of small infractions you are likely to see larger ones.


“Santorum touts his roots in reform,” by Carrie Budoff Sunday January 22, 2006

“FBI probe: schools vs political connection,” by Ken Dilanian Sunday January 22, 2006, p. A1

“Nonprofit paid for suit against Fumo opponent,” By Mario F. Cattabiani, John Shiffman and Craig R. McCoy Sunday, January 22, 2006, p. A1

“Campaign money linked to Abramoff,” by Brian Scheid The Intelligencer Sunday January 22, 2006 p. 1

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