Thursday, May 24, 2012

NY Times Article on Earmarks for Helicopter Parts Illustrates the How Corruption Now Takes Place in Congress

Hypocrisy Too, But That’s to be Expected – Republicans Are Involved

Before they were supposedly banned, earmarks, which are appropriations directed to a specific private company, had been used by both parties and about every Congressional member to steer federal money to their state or district.  The New York Times reports on how a Kentucky Republican, Rep. Harold Rogers directed the Pentagon to buy helicopter parts that cost 8 times what a competing product would cost.

A $17,000 Drip Pan for the Government
or $9.95 for the Public at
Auto Zone
Thanks to a powerful Kentucky congressman who has steered tens of millions of federal dollars to his district, the Army has bought about $6.5 million worth of the “leakproof” drip pans in the last three years to catch transmission fluid on Black Hawk helicopters. And it might want more from the Kentucky company that makes the pans, even though a similar pan from another company costs a small fraction of the price: about $2,500.

Now this is not to single out Mr. Rogers and Republicans specifically.  Any examination of these practices would show Democrats also involved in the same sort of thing.  Greed and malfeasance know no party boundaries.  But this issue is particularly illuminating because Republicans like to portray themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.

The more relevant part of this story is that it illustrates the modern way that politicians receive payoffs.  In the old days, being in office was not very financially rewarding, so many office holders just took direct payments, kickbacks, bribes and whatever in the form of good old fashioned cash.  A pretty simple system.

But today politicians have voted themselves great salaries and huge benefits for serving in elected office.  So the critical point is not so much to get money from outside interests, but to be able to stay in office.  So the new form of corruption operates this way.

  1. A politician steers government money to businesses.
  2. The businesses contribute heavily to the politicians re-election campaign.
  3. The politician is re-elected time after time, gets greater power to award monies to special interests and gets to remain in a very lucrative job.

In the helicopter story, here is the process nicely illustrated.

The company’s owners are political contributors to the congressman, who has been called the “Prince of Pork” by The Lexington Herald-Leader for his history of delivering federal contracts to donors and others back home. .  .  .

Mr. Wilson and his wife, Peggy, who is the president of the company, have been frequent contributors to Mr. Rogers’s political committee, as well as to Republican groups. The company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues, records show.

Mr. Rogers, in turn, has been a strong supporter of the manufacturer. He has directed more than $17 million in work orders for Phoenix Products since 2000.

Yep, that’s about how it works.  It’s what they do not teach you  in Political Science.

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