The Party Line
Thu March 27, 2014
Political Corruption Is Rare Exception
For many, corruption in politics is a given. Those awarded with the public’s trust are always questioned in their motives.
The allegations that Charlotte’s mayor, Patrick Cannon, was just in a long list of notable scandals and examples of political corruption: most recently, the mayors of Detroit and New Orleans were targets of the criminal justice system at the local level.
So this sordid episode in the Queen City continues a narrative that probably most citizens would come to expect: one more politician attempting to line his pockets and wallet in exchange for the official use of his power.
What a surprise — it happens all the time, right?
Well, perhaps not as much as one would think. In looking at the actual numbers, the reaction may be more “it’s only that much?”
The FBI, which conducted the operation against Cannon, releases public corruption data, the most recent from 2012. Going back 1993, the average number of charges brought against local officials for federal public corruption was 269.
The number of local officials convicted of public corruption in that same time period averages 230 cases.
Considering that there are 38,910 general purpose local governments, and another 51,146 special purposes governments at the local level in the U.S., the public corruption cases may not be as many as we expect.
Beyond the numbers, it is the perception—often involving bribery, scandal, and the fall of these elected officials—that raises the public awareness beyond the actual numbers. And when the corruption occurs in a city that hasn’t truly experience the level of public dishonesty as other major U.S. cities has experienced, it strikes deep into the political and civic system.
The quick and collective response by the city council showed what the public was thinking: shock and dismay. If these charges are proven in a court of law, perhaps this is a continuing lesson that when individuals are entrusted with the public confidence, betrayal has a higher price than jail time and fines.
And perhaps one of the smaller lessons learned from this is what goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas—unless your dealing with the FBI. Then all bets are off.