The Danger of Big Private Money in Campaigns
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
December 1, 2005

According to the Associated Press report on Tuesday, "Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, an eight-term congressman and hotshot Vietnam War fighter jock, pleaded guilty to graft and tearfully resigned Monday. Cunningham admitted he took $2.4 million in bribes, mostly from defense contractors, in exchange for government business and other favors. ‘The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office,' the Republican said at a news conference. ‘I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.'"

What a sad note upon which to leave Congress or any office. An apparent war hero, Congressman Cunningham surely forgot that for which he came to Congress. This could happen to anyone in public office. It happens to both Democrats and Republicans and across all the artificial boundaries we see in life.

What is interesting is that the defense contractors who apparently did most of the bribing, were not identified, much less charged with any crime so far. Perhaps they entered into a plea bargain. Perhaps prosecutors did not want to focus attention on some of the equally culpable culprits involved in this scenario. It just seems only right that the companies should bear some appropriate responsibility for the breach of the law. It takes two to tango.

This situation should be a lesson to all of us elected officials to be cautious about the manner in which we conduct the public's business. It may seem that we will never be "found-out", but as is said, "The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine." So much of this leads to the discussion about the appropriateness of big, private money in our campaigns.

This country has been evolving the world's greatest democracy since 1776. Every age has witnessed improvements in the capacity of our American electoral system to be "by, for and of the people". The presence of big, private money in campaigns is what makes America an "economacracy", a government driven by money in its public policy-making processes. I will speak to this dimension of elected public life in a future column. In the meantime, let us pray for Congressman Cunningham and for this great country and its system of electing its public officials!

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