If we are ever to clean up Virginia politics, we need to get one thing straight: Taking thinly disguised bribes and calling them “gifts” or “in-kind political contributions” from people with serious business before the state is a crime and should be treated as such. When the shake-down first couple of Virginia, Bob and Maureen McDonnell, got Jonnie Williams to pay for their daughter’s wedding reception, for the Guv’s Rolex watch, for Maureen’s shopping trip to the Big Apple, for “loans” to bail out McDonnell’s real estate deals at the same time that Williams’ company was fighting a tax case with the state was downright criminal – as was Ken Cuccinelli cozying up to Williams during the same period, enjoying vacation homes and Thanksgiving dinners.
Today, corruption is not treated as the crime it is. If the local school board is corrupt and takes a kickback to give the contract for a new school to a favored builder, that is stealing from the taxpayers. When legislators who have the power to approve or not approve uranium mining in Virginia accept a vacation in France disguised as a “fact-finding trip,” they’re stealing the one thing that they should hold precious: the right to represent their constituents, the reason they hold the offices they occupy. If Ken Cuccinelli sends an underling to “discuss” with gas and oil companies dealings with landowners who have filed a civil suit trying to get their royalty money from said companies, he is stealing from those people their fair chance to be heard in court without interference from legal representatives drawing their paychecks because voters trusted them to be fair and honest.
If we continue to treat corruption as less than the crime it is, we are indirectly abetting those who are using the system to enrich themselves and to attain higher office. Corruption breeds bad government, and it breeds bad business. If and when the General Assembly decides to change the non-existent ethics laws in Virginia, they have to do one other thing. Make it a crime for politicians to break those laws. Otherwise, any changes in the laws will be hollow. Never again should a politician be able to say he “forgot” that he received a bribe – uh, “gift” – from someone trying to influence his (or her) public actions. If that burden is too great for a politician, I have one suggestion for them. Don’t run for office. We all will be the better for it.