Monday, January 20, 2020

Trump's corruption policy: let's be as corrupt as the rest of the world

A version was published in the Winter Park Times, January 23, 2020

Trump's corruption policy is not to fight corruption in foreign countries, but to make America as corrupt as the rest of the world. Now, we have a president who wants to permit US companies to bribe foreign officials in order to get business contracts abroad. US is already no angel at home. Foreigners often point to the US campaign finance system that makes corruption legal through lax campaign contribution rules and expensive election campaigns.

This is in the midst of an impeachment process where corruption in Ukraine is viewed as a bad thing. and the president has been charged with  a form of bribery of the Ukrainian president  (called "pressuring" in the articles of impeachment described in the abuse of power section). Trump is accused of withholding needed  military aid and a visit to the White House in order to give incentives for  the Ukrainian president  to find dirt on the presidents' likely 2020 opponent and to announce the undertaking of the investigation publicly.
At the top of the anti-corruption measures was a 1977 law forbidding  US citizens to bribe foreign government officials in order to get contracts and business. Bribery is viewed as a criminal act, whether in our country or abroad. Since 2017, President Trump has been advocating overturning the Corrupt Practices Act. This year Larry Kudlow, Director of the president's National Economic Council, said the President is looking into the possibility of overturning the 1977 anti-bribery law by using administrative measures. Trump called the anti-bribery statute unfair since it puts US corporations at a disadvantage in vying for contracts abroad when they are competing against bidders who have no such constraints or scruples. From a businessman's perspective, it is much easier to do business with corrupt governments because a bribe will get you around inconvenient zoning and financing restrictions if you know which official who is open to certain under-the-table offers and who are close to the ruler or power structure.

At the same time, campaign donations are being raised for certain GOP Senators acting as jurors in the President's impeachment trial who pledge to vote to acquit in advance of the trial itself. According to an investigative report of Senators benefitting by these special fundraising efforts are those who are facing tough  re-election campaigns in purple states who may feel inclined to waffle on acquitting the president in the trial. The Hill that obtained the fundraising appeal letter.  Among those who are targeted for campaign funds raised by Donald Trump and the GOP in this special effort is our own Colorado senator Cory Gardner.  There is nothing illegal about this, nor this does not mean Gardner is corrupt, but it is an example of the difficulties that Senators have in bucking Trump if they wanted to vote to acquit and it reveals  the power of campaign contributions as a party discipline weapon. The amount of money needed to campaign successfully is enormous given the cost of advertising and the length of the campaign season. Reforms are needed in both of those cost generating factors. The recent Citizen's United decision by the US Supreme Court that overturned the federal law forbidding campaign contributions by corporations to candidates has only made that form of legalized corruption of the legislative process worse as money more easily can flow to campaign coffers.

The question on the table is what kind of a country do we want to be? The uncorrupt standard for the rest of the world or do we want to be a country that is as corrupt as the actors we so piously condemn?  Not only must we not let the Trump administration legalize bribery abroad, but we should start cleaning house in reforming campaign finance laws at home.

Sen. Cory Gardner is no profile in courage, Blog posting 10/2019

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