Monday, October 22, 2012

US Political Fund-Raising: Legalized Corruption

A few weeks ago, Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Policy keynoted a conference I helped organize.  Among those in demand for such addresses, worldwide, there are few speakers who are more masterful and evocative.
Dean Mahbubani’s theme was the need for global leadership.  His talk enumerated a litany of problems that global leadership needs to address, one of the most pernicious of which is is corruption. Corruption, Dean Mahbubani suggested, is endemic in many nations and always socially corrosive.  In the United States, too, he observed, corruption is endemic, but there is a difference: corruption in the US is legal.
I was reminded of his speech last Saturday morning as I was listening to a news story on US Presidential campaign fund raising.  Each campaign, the analyst noted, will have raised and spent more than $US one billion in contributions.  Moreover, this sum excludes the secret, unreported contributions that were made legal by a recent US Supreme Court decision in the “Citizens United” case.  Why would a contributing individual or organization want their contributions to remain unreported, the analyst asked?
The answer he offered was this:  “Individuals and organizations do not write multi-million dollar checks without expecting something in return.”  The “something” obviously is preferential treatment from government, providing value- added substantially I excess of the funds given.  Private funds, in other words, are given as payment for public goods that will benefit the giver at the expense of average citizens – that is most citizens – with few or no funds to give.
Are US political leaders legitimately standing on moral high-ground when they criticize countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Berlusconi’s Italy, Chavez’s Venezuela, India, China and the like for corruption.  This year’s presidential campaign fund-raising highlights the hypocrisy of such posturing.  Corruption is a worldwide problem, as Dean Mahbubani has emphasized.  The only difference between my country and more overtly corrupt nations is that in the United States of America, corruption is legal. 

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