Saturday, September 12, 2009

Zero Tolerance Would Curb Corruption

Should it surprise anyone that New Jersey lags other states in posting financial data online that might be used to curb corruption and graft? Shocking, I know.
A bill that would create the Web portal has stalled with the Legislature currently on summer break, and its supporters would now like to see Governor Corzine take up the cause as he seeks reelection.

At an afternoon news conference inside the State House, the supporters attempted to put new pressure on Corzine — who in January called the effort "a credible way to increase accountability and transparency in our budget process."

The Web site, which would improve on the state Department of Treasury's posting of the current state budget, could be created by an executive order, said Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris.

"We don't know why the governor is waiting," said Pennacchio, sponsor of the legislation.

Corzine's press secretary, Robert Corrales, said the governor still thinks the Web site is a good idea and hopes to have one up and running by the end of this year.

Twenty-two other states have launched some type of fiscal transparency Web site that lists comprehensive, searchable information on government spending, said Sandra Fabry, executive director of the conservative Center for Fiscal Accountability based in Washington.

"New Jersey is slowly but surely falling behind," she said.
But websites are one thing; pressure from politicians on those who are engaging in corrupt activities is quite another.

It's well past time that the culture of corruption that is pervasive at all levels of government be curtailed. I'm not naive to believe that corruption could be eliminated because someone will always try to skirt the rules, but we need to have politicians who hold themselves and their fellow politicians to a higher standard.

Instead of rigging the system like dozens of New Jersey politicians, or hoping that seniority or campaign contributions insulate themselves from ethics violations as Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel has done, or believe that adultery and the misuse of state funds are not offensive as Republican Gov. Mark Sanford believes, it's instructive to see how their fellow politicians respond.

More often than not, the politicians of the same political party look on in indifference. Democrats controlling the House have ignored the criminality of Rangel, up to and including tax evasion, all while allowing him to continue chairing the House Ways and Means Committee that sets tax policy for the nation. Sanford's fellow Republicans have called on him to resign. Gov. Jon Corzine had to call on his fellow Democrats to resign in New Jersey after they were busted, primarily because it was Chris Christie's office that indicted many of them.

It's a need to hold our politicians accountable for their actions, and that those in positions of power hold each other accountable as well. It means that Republicans have to police fellow Republicans in addition to Democrats; and that Democrats have to police fellow Democrats in addition to Republicans. It means ending the double standards that call for attacking the other political party's failures while ignoring their party's own corruption.

Corrupt politicians are a major reason why many Americans don't trust the political system. They see double standards everywhere, with one standard for politicians, and one for everyone else. The Rangel situation is particularly instructive given that any taxpayer in his position would have faced criminal charges for the massive underpayment of taxes and the failure to file accurate tax filings over a span of years, to say nothing of his violations of state rent stabilization laws and other ethical misdeeds. Yet, the IRS simply required repayment of the back taxes without penalties.

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