Wednesday, January 11, 2006

'Integrity' reform that wasn't

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

How so like politicians drowning in the scandal of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and being infected by the contagious touch of Texas Rep. Tom DeLay's sleazy politics -- quick to declare innocence, whining of being duped, demanding ethical reform.

How so reminiscent of the scene in the 1942 film "Casablanca," when Capitaine Renault (actor Claude Rains) feigns his chagrin about gaming in Rick's Café Américain: "I'm shocked, shocked, to find gambling is going on in here," as the croupier hands a fistful of roulette winnings to Renault.

So, once again, cries of reform echo through the Capitol, and once again Capitol chambers are awash in hypocrisy and faux self-loathing.

The executive and legislative branches, remember, hailed the return of "integrity" with Republican control, which, as old hands who've heard this refrain before suspected, was merely a smokescreen for what was to come.

Encouraged by White House master of dirty tricks, Karl Rove, his House counterpart in corruption, Tom DeLay, publicly declared the new Republican ground rule: pay-to-play.

Translated, corporations and lobbyists were expected to give handsomely to Republicans, and hire Republicans, if they expected favors.

In Al Capone's Chicago, this was the "protection racket." It also nicely fits the definition of bribery and comes close to extortion.

Vietnam War hero-turned-California Republican congressman, Duke Cunningham, was the most pathetic glutton of favors-for-pay -- he accepted more than $2 million in Defense contractor bribes, including a yacht and a Rolls Royce, before being caught and is now facing prison time for his help.

Meanwhile, panic has spread among 296 members of the House and Senate that the Center for Responsive Politics report accepted money and favors from lobbyist Abramoff, who's singing about his deals with politicians in exchange for a shorter prison sentence.

Virtuous pleas for reform aren't because of a moral reawakening; rather, Republicans, especially, are trying to save their skins and retain control in Washington in the face of declining public approval.

Yet, the millions of dollars Abramoff collected from clients and spread around Congress for favorable votes is chump change compared to the tens of millions of dollars collected to elect President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

It's been a good investment for corporations. The White House routinely does industry's bidding by relaxing environmental rules, opening public lands to petrochemical and lumbering interests, rejecting stricter fuel standards for vehicles and handing out huge no-bid contracts to industrial cronies.

To the novice's eye, there doesn't seem to be much different in congressmen caught up in the DeLay-Abramoff "pay-for-play" and a White House that collects millions, then does what donors ask.

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