Program Note: Towards the end of last year, I agreed to offer this column space as a prize in an essay contest for high school students. The contest was run by the Museum of Political Corruption project, a non-profit organization currently raising funds to build a museum dedicated to the history of political corruption in Albany, New York. I've always supported such a noble idea, so it was natural for me to offer up the column space. So today, I'm proud to present the first-ever winner of the "What is political corruption and why should we care?" essay contest.
The winning entry was from Brandon Grant, a high school senior from Oswego High School in Oswego, New York. He heard about the contest from a former criminal justice teacher of his, and decided it would be worth entering. His essay is presented below. Brandon is thinking about pursuing education as a career, and he had this to say about the subject of political corruption: " I feel it's a great subject to discuss and will try to educate more people in the future about it. The more people informed the better."
Although it was not specifically part of the prize, I am pleased to announce that Brandon's essay will also run on the Huffington Post, which should look pretty good on a college application. I offer my congratulations to Brandon Grant, and would encourage all interested high school students to enter next year's contest, as well.
-- Chris Weigant
What Is Political Corruption And Why Should We Care?
By Brandon Grant
People are suffering and need your help! You're a United States legislator and you have just been presented with an up-and-coming bill. If this bill passes, people will receive aid and live better lives. However, special interests (that contribute handsomely to your re-election) don't approve of the bill. So who will you listen to? The people or the special interest groups? Why, the special interest groups, of course! After all, how does helping the people benefit you? That, right there, is an example of political corruption. More and more in modern society those elected to office to serve the interests of the people are being bought off by special interests to make sure any new legislation put into place benefits their businesses and their ideals; thus silencing any who might go against them.
One of the biggest elements in our society that facilitate corruption is the way our politicians finance their election campaigns. The best way to win an election is to get your name out there to the people; however, that takes funding. Special interests and corporations will gladly provide campaign funding in exchange for a politician's loyalty. Not only will special interests or corporations pay a politician's way into office (via ads, billboards and air time), those contacts can be lucrative in the near future. They might promise the candidate a well-paying job as a lobbyist once he or she leaves office, for instance. An example being former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who joined the multi-million dollar lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro shortly after resigning from Congress, and who then allegedly used his earnings as "hush money" to keep quiet a student he'd molested as a wrestling coach. After an extended period of time, politicians become so dependent on special interests to preserve their careers, they would dare not do anything that benefits anyone other than those interests -- for fear of "biting the hand that feeds them."
Once a political leader has been bought off by a faceless corporation, what does that mean for the American people? Well one of the first things a corrupt politician will do when working for a special interest is they will receive bills drafted by lobbyists that fit the corporation's needs. For instance, if a large food industry wants to mass produce lower-quality foods, a politician will lobby for the health standards to be lowered in America, cheapening the cost to rake in large sums for that industry. In a government where money talks, morals mean almost nothing.
Though political corruption is alive and well, what can we do to combat it? The obvious answer is to educate the masses. Many people are unaware of how their leaders are being bought off and are lying to them for their paycheck. However, groups are arising to try this fix this, such as Represent.Us. This organization has been petitioning to change policies at the local level and will eventually target the federal level. If people can be informed properly, change will come.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant