Something's Rotten in the Political Game

By GABE PRESSMAN
|  Thursday, Feb 11, 2010  |  Updated 9:45 AM EDT
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Something's Rotten in the Political Game

NBCNewYork

Senators talked over each other during last summer's coup -- keeping backs turned before calling a recess after a five minute session.

Hercules, a hero of Greek mythology, was ordered to clean up King Ageas's filthy stables. It was a daunting task but he succeeded.  It couldn't have been more difficult than cleaning up the ethical mess in New York and Albany.

Every day, there seems to be a new scandal. City Councilman Larry Seabrook, a major player in Bronx politics, is the latest person to be indicted in a seemingly endless parade. Federal prosecutors accuse him of money laundering, extortion and fraud -- and using Council discretionary funds to finance non-profit groups that did little for the community they were supposed to help. Seabrook is accused of siphoning off money for himself, his wife, a girlfriend and various relatives.

And the state Senate has just voted to kick out Hiram Monserrate for beating up his girlfriend, who was severely cut by a broken glass.

Political corruption is not new in America. Bribery, graft, extortion, robbery, nepotism, conflict of interest and kickbacks started before the American Revolution. Martha Gore has written that political corruption has always posed a threat to democracy itself, undermining our values.

I spoke to Professor Douglas Muzzio of Baruch College. "There's something rotten," he said, "in our culture of greed, arrogance, lack of accountability. And it gives credence to the idea that everybody does this sort of thing, so it's contagious."

Muzzio suggests that we need independent ethics commissions to oversee the conduct of both legislative branches and the executive branch as well. He says the special funds available to legislators through so-called member items must be curtailed.

Sadly, we can't rely on the boys and girls at the State House or City Hall to police themselves. And it's extremely doubtful that they will ever accept independent oversight. So, we're left in a quagmire that discourages citizens from hoping for anything better.

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