Every day, I hear arguments over the rules of bribery: the vice-president’s $1 million lunch, the big company-sponsored golf event at Martha’s Vineyard, the candidates’ dinners at New York’s famous haunts. There are also arguments over elections: How much is enough? What is a quid pro quo?
I wish I knew all of those things, but what I do know is that the pending criminal probe against former attorney general Loretta Lynch that many Americans say is the lynchpin of the problem is nothing new.
The New York Times reported in 2006 that “Republican representatives” were secretly making $500,000 to $750,000 a year payments to Justice Department officials. This was, apparently, the beginning of a major bribery scandal.
The Times said that one Republican lobbyist gave the Justice Department’s career attorneys and trial lawyers a Las Vegas trip to a Sin City casino called Harrah’s, where they were apparently given bottles of expensive wine, dinner for two, and top-end prostitutes. Other lawyers took an expense-paid vacation to the Bahamas.
“Everybody is aware that, as a culture, the West Coast is more socially liberal than the East Coast,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “This should not come as a surprise to anyone,” he added. “If a large number of Republican national committee donors from the West Coast were soliciting the Justice Department to participate in corruption, then it’s not something you just come out and accept.”
As the Times reported that same year, “Congressional investigators have revealed that National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) funds totaling more than $500,000 have been quietly funneled into federal voter registration drives under a program also funded by corporations, labor unions and foundations.”
By 2003, the Times said, “a substantial amount of funds meant for Republican electoral activities were being diverted to voter registration activities run by the Voter Participation Center, a company set up and operated by prominent Democratic donors including United Healthcare, according to interviews and internal documents. According to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the center reported spending more than $2 million on its voter registration drives in just one year.”
The Times also reported, “Republicans have also been far more vulnerable to political complaints about their fundraising practices than their Democratic counterparts. Aides to [former Sen. Fred] Thompson repeatedly described federal investigation of his fundraising tactics as ‘in vain.’ They complained to The Washington Post in a 2003 story that ‘Congress has made an inordinate effort to push this story out’ and that ‘people keep going back to it again and again.’”
The problem was so widespread and egregious that the Senate Ethics Committee looked into it. Representative Chris Shays, a Republican, revealed it in a lawsuit against President George W. Bush, in which he said that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card “was called to answer a possible conflict of interest between the President’s two constituencies, the Republican base and the Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
As part of an effort to keep the lid on, Republicans pressured then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to drop the investigation, Shays said in the lawsuit. But other Republicans dismissed the allegations and those Republicans were Democrats, including, in the House, Ted Kennedy, Robert Meeks, William Jefferson, Stephen Solarz, William Jefferson Wright and John Conyers.
That is the story of who the big cheats are. They are the guys in power who don’t have to think twice about giving cash to get freebies and favors.
Meanwhile, who are the alleged cheats? It isn’t so easy to tell. Instead of delivering cash, people who gave hush money to Bill Clinton gave checks. Then people who took sweetheart deals with Ray Suarez in exchange for silence were simply fired and upset about it.
So there’s plenty of speculation over whether the investigation of Lynch and others will be able to hold up, let alone whether it will send more people to jail.
But I think it’s impossible to escape the uncomfortable conclusion that when people are in power and they want to know what is going on, they aren’t looking for leaks. They’re looking for files.