Monday, January 11, 2010

The story is not what we consider a crime: The story is what we don't consider criminal

The New York Times is reporting that a former member of the Yonkers (NY) City Council was indicted last week on corruption charges for selling her votes on two development projects which she had previously opposed.
WHITE PLAINS — A former Yonkers city councilwoman was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of accepting nearly $167,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for dropping her opposition to two contentious developments, including a $630 million project that is the city’s largest private undertaking.

The former councilwoman, Sandy Annabi, 39, a Democrat whose term ended in December, was one of three people charged in the indictment. The other two, Zehy Jereis, 38, the former leader of the Westchester County Republican Party, and a lawyer, Anthony Mangone, 36, are accused of bilking two developers of tens of thousands of dollars and funneling the money and other favors to Ms. Annabi in return for her support.

I have no qualms about prosecuting Ms. Annabi. Her alleged offense is serious and deserves to be treated as such.

However, contrast how our laws treat what she allegedly did with how the law views an elected official who takes thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from special interest groups. The recipients of campaign money commonly reward their donors by giving them favorable treatment in contracts or zoning changes or they direct purchases of goods and services to their companies.

The City of Davis has enriched the 46 members of its firefighters' union, Local 3494, with huge salaries, exorbitant vacation and holiday schedules, thousands of hours of pay for conducting union activities, massive built-in overtime, a rich schedule of benefits, luxurious pensions and free medical, dental and vision care for life upon a very early retirement. Is it merely a coincidence that the three members of our City Council who Local 3494 funded for office voted for their contracts, while the two who did not take that money voted against the interests of the firefighters, saying the contract was not in the best interests of the citizens?

It seems to me that any elected official who accepts money from a person or group which does business with the government or person or group which benefits directly by the decisions made by that elected official should not have the right to vote on any issues affecting his donors. To me, that has the appearance of corruption and should be illegal. Yet it is not outlawed and we don't even have ethics codes to forbid it.

At the local level the payoffs to these campaign donors tend to be modest. But at the federal level, the defense contractors, farmers, lawyers and other large financiers of congressional campaigns stand to make billions of dollars in profits based on the decisions made by the Congress. Everyone on the outside believes our system is corrupt.

It's business as usual. And business as usual is outrageous.

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