Where does corruption in politics come from?

Corruption sign

Over the years of political commentary I have done, one thing has always been clear. Politicians are seen as corrupt. Party affiliation really is not a factor in this.

That of course is a huge set of issues. Where do you even start with this? 
20 years ago with Clinton? 40 years ago with Nixon? How about Tammany Hall? Even King George Frederick III can fit the bill.

Perhaps we can instead ask how corruption starts and grows currently. It’s not like there aren’t any recent examples. There are many, but I want to select just two (which have been touched on in podcasts previously).

Crimes don’t really matter

Anthony Brindisi, NY-22

First there is the case of John Stemen. Most will likely not recognize the name, especially since the news story about him died almost within 24 hours of it being reported. Stemen was a high ranking communications staffer in the Congressional office of Rep. Anthony Brindisi (whom he has worked for some 8+ years).

Stemen was arrested just 9 days ago, on charges of soliciting a 17 year old girl for sex – prostitution to be exact – via the internet. Stemen, 57, was fired for this. Exactly ONE day before the arrest and the charges were made.

So here are the unasked questions of corruption. Where is the investigation to determine if this happened before? How was it determined if the position of power of Stemen, in the NY State Assembly or Congressional staff,  was used to abuse and break the law previously? Was this known to any member of the Brindisi staff or Rep. Brindisi himself? Was it covered up, another abuse of power? 

Leaks of active investigations are unimportant

But while those are all relevant and serious questions that the news media have avoided asking, there is something more subtle. How did Rep. Brindisi learn of the pending charges and arrest before they existed in order to fire Stemen? Who leaked the information? Which then caused a suspect in a crime to be made aware prior to law enforcement action? 

What if, Stemen ran once Brindisi notified him of the pending arrest? In fact, why didn’t Stemen run. Was he given assurances that this would be swept under a rug to prevent any blowback against his boss facing a significant re-election battle?

Backdoor political deals are fine

Senators Booker and Gillibrand - bff?

Second example. Sen. Cory Booker announced support of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Both are running for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential race. They are competitors in a very crowded field, where all the candidates are running on the same issues.

Sen. Booker previously announced a guarantee to nominate a woman as his Vice Presidential pick if chosen. He is actively seeking donations and media awareness for his opponent, Sen. Gillibrand. Why? What does he gain from this?

IF she can rally support, get on the upcoming stage of 20 Democratic hopefuls, and somehow rise to the top, what does Booker get? All the variables aside, this shoots Booker in the foot, yes? 

The obvious answer is that he effectively owns Gillibrand. It could also be collusion. It might be intimidation. But it is Machiavellian, to a degree that Littlefinger would be proud.   

Get what you can, at all costs

Machiavellian politics

The question becomes is this part of a deal? Does Booker guarantee himself the VP nomination if Gillibrand somehow pulls off a coup among the hopeful candidates? Or does he get a Cabinet position, much like the deal made for Hillary Clinton in 2008 with then-Senator Barack Obama?

If Gillibrand continues to fall from grace, and fails to make it to the stage (or fails on it), does Booker get to call in his marker and take the financial donations pledged to Gillibrand? Does she actively move her support to his campaign, and the thousands of Democrat voters that go with that? In a race where ever dollar and percentage matter, such collusion would be a massive change in stature and potential outcomes.

IF either of these things are correct, or even implied, yet not publicly stated, isn’t that corrupt? Isn’t that buying political advantage? Doesn’t it mean that some of the Democrat candidates are for sale? In a Party that rigged an election just 2 years ago. So why are pundits and news media quiet on the subject?

The titular question answered

So to the titular question of this commentary, where does the corruption that we all see come from? By no means is it limited to just the Democrat Party – Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians and more all have similar revelations. So where?

From the public.

The news covered the bare minimum necessary on these events. They then walked away from the stories. Some media, like local talk news radio, even actively shunned any mention of these stories. And the public IS ok with that.

A public that is used to sexy, eye-candy headlines read the mundane bold type and moved on to the next promoted must-read summarization. “Nothing to see here” was the context given, and accepted. Because it can’t be news if all the media won’t argue over it. It can’t be potentially corrupt if it can’t last a single news cycle.

Seeds of corruption

Seeds of corruption

But I posit that this is the definition of the seeds of corruption. If leaks of criminal activity, and the suppression of that criminal act, are seen as not newsworthy they why not commit more? What crime is crossing the line, if such a line exists?

What act of collusion is bad, and who decides this? What backdoor political deal is off-limits? Since de facto backdoor deals (even in theory) are permissible, apparently. 

How can we expect any candidate or elected official to live to a moral standard, when we actively reward elected officials who actively reject that standard. Especially when being a pillar of moral authenticity results in a loss of political power and opportunity? 

Maybe no one in the Brindisi office was aware of the actions of John Stemen. Maybe Stemen never did this before. It’s possible that Booker is just a great friend of Gillibrand. But the lesson from the media, and the public, is that even if a more negative corrupt tone was taken it would be ok. And the seed of corruption is planted.


About the Author

Michael Vass
Born in 1968, a political commentator for over a decade. Has traveled the U.S. and lived in Moscow and Tsblisi, A former stockbroker and 2014 Congressional candidate. Passionate about politics with emphasis on 1st and 2nd Amendments.

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