The Price of an Appropriation in the Democratic-Republican Party's Culture of Corruption

If you do not live in New York, you probably did not hear the news that two Democratic state lawmakers from Brooklyn were indicted in federal court last week on a wide assortment of corruption and bribery charges.  Indeed, it is entirely possible that you did not hear the news even if you do live in New York.  And if you did happen to catch a report, you might then have wondered: "This is news? Corruption in the political class?"  As the Daily News reported last week:
State Sen. Carl Kruger set up an elaborate bribery scheme that brought him $1 million in payoffs from hospital execs, a developer and a lobbyist, prosecutors charged Thursday.  In the latest example of sleaze at the state Capitol, Kruger was hit with a breathtaking assortment of corruption charges along with his fellow Brooklyn Democrat, Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., and six others.

"Once again, I am here to report, sadly, that the crisis of corruption continues in Albany," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in unveiling a 53-page criminal complaint. [Emphasis added] . . .
A key player was co-defendant Michael Turano . . . Turano controlled a shell company, Olympian Strategic Development, that served as Kruger's indirect ATM. . . .
An analysis in the Wall Street Journal puts the indictments in context and recommends a modest reform:
In the last two years, a dozen elected and appointed state officials have been convicted or accused in crimes. Nine were elected to office. That doesn't include former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was swept into office in 2006 by New Yorkers clamoring for reform. He resigned in 2008 after he was named in a prostitution investigation. . . .

"You have to stop to think, 'Is it a problem with the laws, or something more cultural,'" said Karl Sleight, former executive director of the state Ethics Commission. "That's the threshold conversation that needs to be honestly had, and isn't." [Emphasis added.] . . .
The sticking point now in the debate over a new ethics law is over whether legislators must disclose clients in their law and consulting businesses to identify any conflicts. But Brodsky notes law already requires disclosure of any conflicts. The attention needs to be on the private efforts by lawmakers to influence the executive branch on awarding state contracts. That's perhaps a dull reform if you're trying to impress voters, but it's the crux of most of the recent corruption cases.
Of course, as Democrats and Republicans have themselves helpfully documented, the two-party state  is defined by its "culture of corruption."  The supposed "crisis of corruption" alluded to by the prosecutor above is in fact the traditional mode of operation for the ruling political class under the long-standing misrule the Democrat-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government.

Reading these reports, I couldn't help but be reminded of a hilarious passage from Mark Twain's The Gilded Age, published in 1873.  In the scene, a naive young land speculator, Henry Brierly, meets with the politically connected president of the Columbus River Slack-Water Navigation Company to inquire about a Congressional appropriation the company had procured to ensure that the federal government would purchase land in which Breirly had a major stake.  As Brierly learns, the initial appropriation of $200,000 is not marked to purchase the land, but rather the Congress and the public.  Excerpt from Chapter 28:
"Where is that appropriation?--if a stockholder may make so bold as to ask," [asks Brierly.]

"The appropriation?--that paltry $200,000, do you mean?" [asks the president of the company.]

"Of course--but I didn't know that $200,000 was so very paltry. Though I grant, of course, that it is not a large sum, strictly speaking. But where is it?"

"My dear sir, you surprise me. You surely cannot have had a large acquaintance with this sort of thing. Otherwise you would not have expected much of a result from a mere INITIAL appropriation like that. It was never intended for anything but a mere nest egg for the future and real appropriations to cluster around."
"Indeed? Well, was it a myth, or was it a reality? Whatever become of it?"
As the company man explains, first you have to lay out funds for a majority of the relevant committee members:
"Why the--matter is simple enough. A Congressional appropriation costs money. Just reflect, for instance--a majority of the House Committee, say $10,000 apiece--$40,000; a majority of the Senate Committee, the same each--say $40,000; a little extra to one or two chairman of one or two such committees, say $10,000 each--$20,000; and there's $100,000 of the money gone, to begin with.
Then you need lobbyists to ensure support from the rest of the upper and lower chambers, not to mention various incidentals in addition to donations to charitable causes:
"Then, seven male lobbyists, at $3,000 each-- $21,000; one female lobbyist, $10,000; a high moral Congressman or Senator here and there--the high moral ones cost more, because they give tone to a measure--say ten of these at $3,000 each, is $30,000; then a lot of small-fry country members who won't vote for anything whatever without pay--say twenty at $500 apiece, is $10,000; a lot of dinners to members--say $10,000 altogether; lot of jimcracks for Congressmen's wives and children--those go a long way--you can't spend too much money in that line--well, those things cost in a lump, say $10,000--along there somewhere; and then comes your printed documents--your maps, your tinted engravings, your pamphlets, your illuminated show cards, your advertisements in a hundred and fifty papers at ever so much a line-- because you've got to keep the papers all light or you are gone up, you know. Oh, my dear sir, printing bills are destruction itself. Ours so far amount to--let me see--10; 52; 22; 13;--and then there's 11; 14; 33-- well, never mind the details, the total in clean numbers foots up $118,254.42 thus far!"


"Oh, yes indeed. Printing's no bagatelle, I can tell you. And then there's your contributions, as a company, to Chicago fires and Boston fires, and orphan asylums and all that sort of thing--head the list, you see, with the company's full name and a thousand dollars set opposite-- great card, sir--one of the finest advertisements in the world--the preachers mention it in the pulpit when it's a religious charity--one of the happiest advertisements in the world is your benevolent donation. Ours have amounted to sixteen thousand dollars and some cents up to this time."

"Good heavens!"
Then there's the marketing campaign and the kickbacks to reporters and editors in both the religious and the secular press:
"Oh, yes. Perhaps the biggest thing we've done in the advertising line was to get an officer of the U. S. government, of perfectly Himmalayan official altitude, to write up our little internal improvement for a religious paper of enormous circulation--I tell you that makes our bonds go handsomely among the pious poor. Your religious paper is by far the best vehicle for a thing of this kind, because they'll 'lead' your article and put it right in the midst of the reading matter; and if it's got a few Scripture quotations in it, and some temperance platitudes and a bit of gush here and there about Sunday Schools, and a sentimental snuffle now and then about 'God's precious ones, the honest hard-handed poor,' it works the nation like a charm, my dear sir, and never a man suspects that it is an advertisement; but your secular paper sticks you right into the advertising columns and of course you don't take a trick.
Give me a religious paper to advertise in, every time; and if you'll just look at their advertising pages, you'll observe that other people think a good deal as I do--especially people who have got little financial schemes to make everybody rich with. Of course I mean your great big metropolitan religious papers that know how to serve God and make money at the same time--that's your sort, sir, that's your sort--a religious paper that isn't run to make money is no use to us, sir, as an advertising medium--no use to anybody--in our line of business. I guess our next best dodge was sending a pleasure trip of newspaper reporters out to [the land in] Napoleon [Tennessee]. Never paid them a cent; just filled them up with champagne and the fat of the land, put pen, ink and paper before them while they were red-hot, and bless your soul when you come to read their letters you'd have supposed they'd been to heaven. And if a sentimental squeamishness held one or two of them back from taking a less rosy view of Napoleon, our hospitalities tied his tongue, at least, and he said nothing at all and so did us no harm.
And then there's basic salary and layouts to acquire support from individuals in the monied class:
Let me see--have I stated all the expenses I've been at? No, I was near forgetting one or two items. There's your official salaries--you can't get good men for nothing. Salaries cost pretty lively. And then there's your big high-sounding millionaire names stuck into your advertisements as stockholders--another card, that--and they are stockholders, too, but you have to give them the stock and non-assessable at that--so they're an expensive lot. Very, very expensive thing, take it all around, is a big internal improvement concern--but you see that yourself, Mr. Bryerman--you see that, yourself, sir."
An appropriation costs a lot of money.

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