by Amicus Curia, investigatory photojournalist for Soul Snatcher, Productions ™ of the Mason County Blog (amicuscuria.com/wordpress), and sometimes WIP (Works in Progress of Olympia). 4-5-13 (cc)
It’s intuitive that the distinction between Corruption and Incompetence is one without an effective difference. After all, if you found yourself on death row because of an incompetent or corrupt judge, would you *really* care which?–given the end results are the same. So it is with the average businessman or citizen who cannot pursue their livelihood (whether as a local produce/espresso stand) or quality of life because we don’t fully examine the caliber of candidates annually throwing their hat into the ring…some becoming wealthy beyond their native ability by doing so. How?
What garners the most publicity are the classical money deals containing large sums of cash in surreptitiously exchanged sealed envelopes behind closed doors or in darkened corners. Vice President Agnew once explained his own demands for bribes by pointing out how expensive it was keeping up with appearances as governor of Maryland.
Yes, rich candidates may be less susceptible to corruption — or they may not — but how much do we know about how they amassed their resources in the first place? What are their networks of friends, family and colleagues? What world view will they advocate for? Our political system’s increasing reliance on people of means — both as financiers of candidates, like Sheldon Adelson, or candidates themselves, like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg — has a direct impact on policy choices. The orientation of the uber-wealthy makes them different from the 99 percent in important ways.
Given the disparities, rich officials won’t necessarily bring better representation to average — to say nothing of poor — Americans.
It’s not illegal to be wealthy, and the rich should have as much right to run for office as anyone else. But it’s also not too much to ask, expect and demand that public officials of whatever means resist the temptation to, say, sell a vote.
Bribes are poorly understood by the general public because the press seldom reports on more than the classic variety. The feathers lining ones own nest can be as countless as the stars in the heavens. These permutations of inventiveness are limitless. It’s been said, nothing straight was ever carved from the crooked timber of humanity. Or, as grandmother used to say, “Everyone cheats to the best of their ability.”
Corruption is not limited to bribing public officials for material gain, it can involve the use of public office to deprive one group of constituents of their rights to enhance the privileges of another for any reason. An enthusiastic advocate in office for this or that agenda usually is indifferent to unintended consequences of that agenda upon others which deprives them of their basic rights, and that is a corruption of government as great as bribe seeking.
While affluence can come as the result of hard and very smart work, it often comes as the result of clever but mediocre efforts happening to be in the right place and the right time. There is no correlation between wisdom and wealth, as anyone who lives and works with the more affluent members of society have noted.
In addition, self interest can distort the perspective of even the most highly intelligent and erudite of people. To enjoy good government requires citizens be well informed and vigilant about how their government is run–to acknowledge a duty to obey just laws and disobey intrinsically unjust ones alike, to demand those responsible for unjust laws/policies be held accountable.
An illustrative local example of just such corruption serves as a window to understanding. Mason County, adjacent to Thurston, affords a gateway to the Olympic Mountains and its National Park replete with once pristine alpine lakes now polluted with mercury and its Oakland Bay/Shelton Harbor sediments containing the highest concentration of Dioxin in the Puget Sound…902 ppt in the harbor!
How did such an environmental disaster involving the most toxic chemical known come to be? Who was responsible for exposing the public to a persistent bio-accumulative carcinogenic, mutagenic, immune system suppressant with NO known ‘safe level’ (if it can be measured, it’s dangerous to human health) of exposure? The bio-accumulative effect can be demonstrated by the fact human mother’s breast milk (on average) contains 400% of the level of Dioxin permitted in commercial dairy cattle milk for sale. Even the smallest traces of this insidious poison cause learning deficiencies (somewhat like lead exposure) in children.
Simpson (aka ‘Green Diamond’) timber company incinerators sit within Shelton City limits on its waterfront. Its smokestacks spew pollution into the air daily as they have for decades. City officials have traditionally done nothing about subjecting city residents to this chemical cocktail. When Simpson floats plans for even more/bigger smokestacks, city officials appear eager to accommodate them, stonewalling the reasoned objections of local citizens. Residents farther afield too often seem nonplussed unless it’s their ox getting gored. Yet these chickens have a habit of coming home to roost. Federal government studies (those documents are available on this web site) confirm Simpson (during the time preceding and including the mid-80’s) removed the Dioxin contaminated ash from the bag-house of its downtown Shelton waterfront incinerator and FLUSHED THEM DOWN THE CITY’S SEWERS! Logically enough, the Dioxin was pumped into our Harbor and Oakland Bay through the treatment plant’s outfall.
Mason County’s 3 sitting Commissioners: Tim Sheldon, Terri Jeffreys, & Randy Netherlin.
The 35th Legislative District (http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/default.aspx?District=35) takes in much of Mason and Kitsap County, a sizable chunk of Thurston, but a sliver of sparsely populated Grays Harbor County. Tim Sheldon holds office as State Senator in that district as well as County Commissioner of Mason. He has been reelected repeatedly simultaneously to both offices. His tenure in the State Senate (one of the 5 currently longest held in that body) and one of 2 Democratic swing votes who crossed over party lines to throw in with a conservative Republican lead majority caucus makes him one of Washington’s most powerful politicians. Senator Sheldon’s penchant for business (corporate) oriented policies have often been at the expense and contemptuous of his constituents–especially with respect to environmental issues. Sheldon was rewarded by this new majority coalition for his apparent perfidy by being elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Sheldon is acting President of the Senate when the Lt. Governor is not available or acting Governor.
Despite a significant plurality of voter antipathy based on his official track record (privatization of liquor sales, biomassacre friendly legislation at the County and State level, tax subsidies amounting to corporate welfare to pollution prone industries, Court findings of his refusal to bargain in good faith with public unions, refusal to let major public contracts for open bidding, sitting on the corporate board of companies he funnels public monies to and/or receives campaign donations from, ad infinitum) Sheldon continues to remain comfortably rooted in a lucrative form of double dipping and cronyism.
Senator Tim Sheldon, some years ago, began a service based corporation known as the EDC (Economic Development Council) which is not a public entity in any sense of the word, but a closely held for profit corporation. Sheldon acted as its well paid chair for many years before handing off the position to his business colleague, Jay Hupp (now a Port of Shelton Commissioner responsible for many decisions affecting the regional environment, resources, and tax expenditures). The EDC purported to attract business (thus ‘JOBS’) to locales such as the City of Shelton, the County of Mason, the Port of Allen, and others. On this theory alone, without any accountability or proof the company was actually giving citizens much bang for their buck, it repeatedly approached the respective elected officials with its hand out. Unsurprisingly, it was not disappointed as the same officials who sat on the EDC board of directors obliged with tax money emptied from residents’ pockets. The EDC and its staff, in turn, upon each ensuing election cycle generously contributed to those same politicians’ campaign fund according to Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission records.
Washington State law allows for service contracts (like this one) to be let without bidding…a loophole for legal corruption/bribery large enough to drive a Mack truck loaded with currency through. Not all counties/municipalities take advantage of this invitation for abuse, opting to let such contracts out for open bidding instead. But Mason/Shelton officials routinely engage in this kind of corruption. They have been successfully called out on it by outraged plaintiffs on more than a few occasions. Mason County’s refusal to let out its garbage/refuse disposal contract stands as a recent example. Age discrimination and unlawful termination are another.
Yet voters continue to gorge themselves on the meal Sheldon has supplied: A dish featuring himself as a valiant maverick politician doing the people’s business in the face of Party bosses and Democratic recriminations. Had these citizens bothered to examine the facts set out in Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission records, they’d have found Sheldon routinely receives over 90% of his campaign contributions from a who’s who list of corporations. Fully 4 times as many corporations donate to his campaign coffers as do individual citizens. This serves as one explanation of why Senator/Commissioner Tim Sheldon can be seen (in photos on amicuscuria.com/wordpress) openly SNEERING at his constituents while stonewalling their pleas for protection from environmentally disastrous policies/projects.
On at least two separate occasions (while running for office, no less!) Tim Sheldon was asked how many signatures it would take from his constituents to get him to reconsider his position. His answer on BOTH occasions?: “It wouldn’t matter!” In other words, if Senator Sheldon received 100% of the signatures from his registered constituents on an issue of vital importance to them, he opines it would not make any difference. Sheldon has SEEN the enemy–and it is US!
If this does not fit the definition of ‘bribery’ by other means (than immediate cash in an envelope) then nothing else does. It promises we will be stuck with such ‘arrangements’ as government witnesses being ‘bribed’ with value far in excess of any monetary currency, i.e. their freedom/liberty by reducing the number of years they face behind bars. Like the above described rotting fish and the U.S. Supreme Court’s pronouncement that corporate influence/money is tantamount to ‘free speech’ (People United), the government continues to bribe witnesses in criminal proceedings, as only it can, with actions that would send anyone else to prison for witness tampering.
It’s been said we get the government we ‘deserve’. So take a close look and renew your civic pride, your self respect, and your sense of duty to your community where hopefully we can depend on each other when we cannot rely on government to provide such core functions as preventing force, fraud, and providing for the national defense…including/especially the environment! Demand both integrity AND competence in our elected officials. Doing so will lessen the need for reliance on 2nd Amendment principles: the duty to sever political bonds with oppressive, corrupt, and incompetent public officials.
“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” -Hunter S. Thompson-
Primer: How to Elect a Corrupt Politician (Hint: take an issue voters don’t care about…or even admire, and repeatedly–after losing many elections on the point–make a really big deal out of it. e.g: Keep carping about Sheldon holding 2 full time political offices, which voters have rejected as a material issue by repeatedly reelecting him to both.)