Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Some cynics say that campaign contributions to legislators these days are often nothing more than a way for fat cats of one stripe or another to pay for legislation that favors their interests. This is, of course, a completely unfair accusation. They have so many other roles:

For more than a decade, a small group of businessmen contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of their county commissioners in Luzerne County, a waning coal center in eastern Pennsylvania. The elected officials gave the businessmen control over the county pension fund, about $200 million at its peak. After hiring insurance companies, brokerage firms and others to manage the money, the businessmen reaped several million dollars in commissions and fees from the companies.

Those who recall Ashcroft's remarks on corruption at Davos may sense a whiff of hypocrisy here -- but only if they lose track of a vital distinction: Ashcroft was talking about bribes, and these politicians took campaign contributions, duly donated according to law. Unfortunately, this point was equally lost on the crowd at Davos, which gave Ashcroft's remarks a cool reception, and the overly censorious prosecutors of Pennsylvania, who are now going after the Luzerne county crowd for racketeering. The SEC has found similar examples in seventeen states; would they all have been doing it if it wasn't OK?


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