When I say the government is corrupt, I get two basic responses most of the time: 1) prove it and 2) what else is new?
The first response tends to come from the public officials themselves. Many seemed offended that I would dare to suggest some of them, or many of them, are not all squeaky clean. Yet, when I stand at the county fair and say the same thing, most people are not all that shocked that there is corruption in local government in Columbia County and upstate New York.
I think I've done my part to prove the problem exists very specifically in the governments I have had the pleasure of butting heads with. Check this out for links to the proof I've been able to acquire without subpoena power. I am looking to get material through discovery through a lawsuit in federal court, stuff I couldn't get with Freedom of Information requestions (FOIL).
As to the second argument, about human nature, tilting at windmills, my response is you can create a system that controls abuse. The tricky part is that politicians would have to vote to pass the system. It could be done. Politicians don't mind passing laws to control abuse of power by police. They have systems in place to keep people from cheating on their sales tax when they buy a used car. They take action to control citizens all the time.
None of these systems are perfect. There is police corruption. People do cheat on their sales tax. Some citizens do commit all kinds of crimes.
But there are systems in place. They are flawed but they exist. When it comes to local ethics enforcement of politicians and officers of county, town and city government, the "system" is so flawed and useless that it is more accurate to say that the state has no system at all. This is my review of 20 years of state sponsored commissions and tasks forces that have concluded that the system we have stinks.
What system could work? The task force the legislature put into place in 2010 had a number of recommendations for beefing up ethics boards. My hero Anna Hazare in India wants a corruption ombudsman. In 1993, the legislature had a commission issue a report with a whole host of recommendations.
To the list of recommendations I would add two categories of ideas: 1) leverage the power of the internet; 2) use the inherent nature of humans to form competing factions, the same tendency reported by James Madison in 1790, the principle of balancing competing groups, use factionalism to stop any one group or member of that group from cheating. These two areas are mutually reinforcing: if all the information in on line, opponents will know the guys on the other side will see everything and use it against them.
It's not that hard to design a system to stop cheating by elected and appointed government officials. It's hard to get their buddies in the state legislature to pass the system.
From the citizen's point of view a law to create a system to stop local governments from abusing their powers and stealing should be a no brainer. From the point of view of the guys in Albany in the senate and house, it's really hard to do.
This is not a difficult call. You know you have no system to police the towns and counties. You know they are full of wrong doing. You know this wrong doing is killing the upstate economy. You know you have all these reports confirming that New York State is a cesspool. Yet you don't pass a law to clean it up.
If the state legislature weren't thick with corruption, they would listen to their own commissions and vote for a local ethics enforcement laws. They won't do it. It can be done. It's not hard to draw up an effective law, beefed up ethics board, internet disclosure of all payments, ombudsman, all of it. It's hard to get a good law passed.
What does that say to you?