Pro Publica recently revisited an ethics case in Louisiana that has dragged on for nine years.
Now, when I think of states with strongly ethical political cultures, Louisiana doesn’t come to mind, but even in the state that gave us Huey Long and David Duke, the situation on which they reported is notable.
It’s been nine years since the Louisiana Ethics Board first took up what its former chairman called “the most egregious case” to ever come before him.
In 2010, the board accused former state Sen. Robert Marionneaux Jr. of failing to disclose to the board that he was being paid to represent a company in a lawsuit against Louisiana State University. The lack of transparency was only part of the problem. Marionneaux offered to get the Legislature to steer public money toward a settlement, according to charges the Ethics Board later filed against him. The money would also help pay off his contingency fee, which an LSU lawyer pegged at more than $1 million.
Evidently, according to ethics advocates, the snail’s pace and limited scope of the case are due to the weaknesses of Louisiana’s ethics enforcement system.
In 2008, the Legislature delivered ethics reforms that then-Gov. Bobby Jindal billed as a new “gold standard” that any state would covet. But more than a dozen people involved in the system said in interviews that the reforms have done the opposite, chipping away at and dragging out ethics enforcement.
The consensus is that Jindal’s “new and improved” ethics rules created more loopholes than they closed.
Those of us who don’t live in Louisiana shouldn’t get cocky. It would behoove us to look at our own state capitals, and especially at the ethical disaster that is America’s current national administration.
If you Google “Trump Administration Corruption,” you will get 38 million hits. One of the most recent is a Bloomberg Interactive titled “Tracking the Trump Administration Scandals.”(Due to the large number of said scandals, the site allows you to sort by category: administration officials, Trump and his family, the Trump Organization and Trump associates, etc.)
If you are particularly interested in 2018, there’s Washington Monthly’s “A Year in Trump Corruption.” And last October, The New York Times published “Trump’s Corruption: The Definitive List.”
There’s much, much more.
Not unlike the citizens of Louisiana (large numbers of whom, during a gubernatorial election between David Duke and Edwin Edwards, sported bumper stickers saying “Vote for the Crook–It’s important”), we’ve gotten inured to the extent of the venality. To use a political science term, corruption has become normalized.
There will be those among defenders of the petty, self-absorbed criminal in the Oval Office who will insist that “they all did it.” Although there have certainly been unsavory people in high places over the years, that statement is manifestly untrue.
Even if it were accurate, however–even if former Presidents and their cabinets did engage in this degree of unethical or illegal behaviors–they had the good sense (or sense of shame) to hide it. This crew showcases it. Trump likes to insist that he’s “transparent”–when it comes to the transparency of his corruption, and that of his cabinet, that’s true.
There are two explanations for the tendency of Trump & company to flaunt their illegal and unethical behaviors: one, as a group, they aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. (Betsy DeVos comes to mind, but she has lots of none-too-bright company); and two, they don’t care. They believe–not without reason–that the public no longer expects government officials to adhere to ethical standards, that those in a position to punish them have been neutered, and that the United States of America–whatever our pretenses of ethical probity and morality–is no different from the corrupt regimes that Trump most admires.
If we do not rise up in 2020 and clean house, the whole country will be Louisiana.