By Ralph Nader
Bill Curry is wondering why corruption is the center of debate or upheaval in every country but ours. He writes that, “Hardly a week goes by without a front-page report of a government toppled or convulsed by corruption scandals.”
Why not our country? Reasons abound. One is that corruption has been institutionalized. It is much more systematic than merely putting cash in an envelope to get a procurement contract from public officials.
Curry, a former Connecticut state Senator, elected state Comptroller, and counsellor to President Bill Clinton, argues that the people hate corruption but are not given its true costs. Curry says, “As Connecticut Comptroller I learned how to count it. An example: a single corrupt bargain struck with health insurers cost the state $1.5 billion, an amount equal to the record deficit our current governor faced on taking office in 2011. There was never a prosecution.”
The ways private commercial interests corrupt public officials are well known. They come by way of exploding campaign funding, lobbyists with gifts swarming over legislatures, speaking fees, revolving doors for corporatists taking key government positions to thwart law enforcement, and lucrative offers to lawmakers in anticipation of their retirement. All these lures are much more persuasive when the general public is quiet and unorganized.
Legalized corruption is all over Washington, D.C. as trillions of dollars of giveaways, subsidies, bailouts, and no-bid contracts proliferate. Did you know that both domestic and foreign mining companies are allowed to explore your federal public lands for minerals? Under an obsolete 1872 mining law, defended by the American Mining Congress, companies have discovered gold, silver, molybdenum, and other ”hard-rock minerals” on our public lands and pay no more than $5 an acre to mine and sell these valuable minerals, without paying any royalties back to the U.S. Treasury.
For example, according to a 1994 report by the Mineral Policy Institute, American Barrick Resources Corporation of Canada – a Canadian gold company—received “patents” on 1,038 acres. The Mineral Policy Center explains that a “patent” as follows: “A company that discovers a valuable mineral deposit on its claim can “patent,” or gain fee title to, the land for a price not to exceed $5.00 per acre. Upon patent issuance, title to public lands is transferred to private ownership.” Barrick “purchased” the 1,038 acres for $5,190 or $5 per acre. Those acres held mineral reserves valued at more than $10 billion. Quite a return on investment for long-standing institutionalized corruption made possible by campaign cash, wining and dining, and other goodies. Where is the organized opposition to this robbing of our country’s commonwealth? No other country in the world gives away its hard-rock minerals for free.
Curry maintains that the two major parties are on the same page with corruption. Their political consultants like corporate giveaways because they make most of their money consulting for corporations. The media, he says “is so unattuned to the issue it doesn’t even include it in Election Day exit polls that ask voters to pick their top concerns from a list of 17 issues.” When one pollster put “corruption” on the list in 2009 and 2010, guess what, “it finished first both times, beating out ‘jobs and the economy’ in the teeth of the recession.”
Why is corruption at the top? Because most people know that corruption is the problem that turns government against the people. Corruption affects taxes, waste, health care, drug prices, credit gouging, energy conversion, upgrading public facilities, living wages and cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, and obscene corporate welfare (crony capitalism.) It is behind luscious contracts to the military hardware services industry that President Eisenhower warned about in his 1961 farewell address. Corruption also primes the pump for criminal wars of aggression such as the war in Iraq—by unaccountable politicians like war criminals Bush and Cheney.
It is not a coincidence, Curry relates, that countries like those in western Europe which have less public corruption and more honest procurement contracting practices also have higher standards of living and health than we do.
Curry is fed up, has fire in his belly, and wants action.
Taking off from his past writings and experience over the years and a recent roundtable discussion we had in Washington on massive public and private billing fraud, he has drafted a “call to action” seeking a quantification and analysis of the corruption epidemic, “followed by a strategy for building a movement and influencing media and political elites.”
The next step in mobilizing, he urges, would be “a national conference in Washington this fall to which every institution active in this issue is invited and asked to adopt a declaration to commit to a fight.”
Are any foundations or enlightened people of means committed to this fundamental turnaround in our political economy and its immense, prompt benefits? After all, when so much that is wrong is made “legal” or “plausible” by corrupt lawmakers, the peoples’ focus can be quite efficient—535 members of Congress and 7,383 state lawmakers for one gigantic jumpstart in a key election year!
If you want more information from Bill Curry, please contact him at [email protected].