You’ve read the headline above. To what do you think it refers? See how easy that was? It doesn’t take much to bring up images of Sacramento politicians taken away in handcuffs or city officials in court for embezzling millions from tiny towns filled with low-income residents.
Corruption has seeped into every corner of California’s public life. Little, big and gigantic, corruption of all kinds has too often become a way of life for Sacramento as well as local politicians.
Let’s review the bidding. Just this year, three Democrat state senators were arrested, indicted or convicted of a range of crimes. In January, state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, was convicted on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud. Politicians constantly tell us that our vote is our most sacred right and duty. Yet here is an elected official who was willing to lie, cheat and steal his way into office. So much for the rights of voters.
Interestingly, Wright’s compatriots in the state Senate harrumphed that the election law was trivial and that really, he should not be punished for some technical violations. These of course are the same people who pile law upon on law and send swarms of bureaucrats and officers to enforce them while demanding that we comply — or else.
Soon thereafter, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on felony charges of bribery and money laundering. Press reports accuse him of taking tens of thousands in bribes, including $28,000 from the chief executive officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach. He allegedly accepted money in exchange for “supporting legislation that would delay or limit changes in California’s workers’ compensation laws,” according to the FBI the affidavit.
Tom Calderon, his brother and former Democrat assemblyman and now lobbyist, is charged with conspiracy and seven counts of money laundering in a related case.
Then there is everyone’s favorite “uncle,” Democrat state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, who despite arrest and indictment is still earning his taxpayer paid salary. Bribery, money laundering, conspiracy, gun running — the list of alleged crimes goes on and includes indictments of 28 more criminals from across the state who together engaged in a series of wide-ranging criminal plots.
Of course, corruption is not totally a Democrat disease. My friend, Republican Pat Nolan, was ensnared in “Shrimpscam” and who can forget Republican congressman Duke Cunningham, his yacht and $2.4 million in bribes?
What can be done about California’s culture of corruption? How can we make the leaders of the Democrat-led state Senate and Assembly pat attention to the shenanigans going on around them?
Some say that the answer is to ban all political contributions. However, that is simply a way forever to silence those who are marginalized and out of power, while not addressing the real issues of bribery and extortion.
The answer is in the very structure of our state government. Sacramento politicians have their hands in every aspect of our lives, of our businesses, of our financial dealings and of our personal property. Every year, they wrap us in new laws and new regulations, from requiring bartenders to wear latex gloves to increased gas taxes that have led to the highest pump prices in the country.
Influence peddlers, opportunists and “rent seekers” (economist-speak for political lobbying to grab more of existing wealth without creating anything new) see their chance in this morass of laws and regulations, and they go after it with gusto.
That’s why complicated and overly burdensome laws like the California Environmental Quality Act always to seem to have carve-outs and exemptions. Or, even better, why they are overruled in certain cases by specific legislation. CEQA exemptions for the boondoggle of high-speed rail and the new arena in Sacramento come to mind.
Simply, we must shrink the size and reach of government so that incentives to game the system, rent seek and bribe legislators are reduced or altogether eliminated. A return to a constitutionalist form of government will be the stake in the heart of the culture of corruption, which is engendered by an expansive, progressive-liberal agenda.
As Founding Father James Madison observed, “Among the evils then of our situation may well be ranked the multiplicity of laws … they are a nuisance: a nuisance of the most pestilent kind.”
California’s culture of corruption is here to stay, unless we elect officials who will take on big government and return power and responsibility to citizens, where it belongs.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.