By: Ken La Rive
Several Months ago I was invited to a barbeque at an old friend’s house. An older gentleman singled me out saying that some of my writings had been forwarded to him by a mutual friend. He told me he liked my style, and that if I was up for it he had a scoop that I may be interested in for an article. He told me nothing of any substance while we watched the meat burn, but mentioned to me a lot of well known politicians that he told me were corrupt. I was dumbfounded. After thinking about it for several weeks I called him and said I wasn’t interested. The reason was that I just didn’t know much about the subject, and that my previous writings focused mostly on morals and ethics. Truthfully, I thought it was way over my head. One thing rings in my ear though, he said it was just as well, as taking a stand was a dangerous thing to do.
This is the way of a lot of social functions. Men retire to the library, or the veranda, and inevitably the conversation will gravitate to politics. Most of the dialogue is very general, where debate and discussion usually ends in frustration for what is out of control. This was the first time I can ever remember where a person said something will be done. I was very curious to know what he had, and if it wasn’t the beer talking, I look forward to a bit of justice in Louisiana, as time goes by. This is what motivated the article below, and a bit of research. What I found was amazing…
While traveling I find that nearly everyone around the country looks at Louisiana as a joke when it comes to political assessment. They laugh when they talk of us electing a known self admitted criminal, and that we would do so again if he wasn’t in prison. We are thought not only to be the most corrupt, but the most illiterate state in the union. Is that actually true?
In 2002 Chicago’s Better Government Association, (BGA), released what it called “the first independent, comprehensive report on integrity in 50 states.” Integrity here refers to the administration’s ability to promote honesty in the operation of state government and affairs, and the actual strength of the legal system to bring justice and accountability to government officials.
At the time of this publication a fellow by the name of Terrance A. Norton was the Executive Director of BGA. He is quoted in a report released by the Corporate Crime Reporter (CCR), January 16, 2004, National Press Club, Washington, D.C. as saying: “In light of the recent scandals that have engulfed many institutions in the United States, one lesson has been drawn clearly, loose standards, secretiveness and lack of accountability are a recipe for disaster. We wanted to determine which states are best prepared to fight corruption and which are vulnerable.”
In the process of determining just what may be lacking in a State where corruption is ramped, five factors were reveled. One, freedom of information laws; Two, whistleblower protective laws; Three, campaign finance laws such as gifts and promotions from special interest groups; Forth, Monitoring of travel and “honoraria” laws; and Fifth, conflict of interest laws.
Interesting here, as it would seem that Louisiana surely must have these laws in place, and the ability to pursue these laws as well. Here is where it gets confusing. It is stated by CCR that having set standards in place does not insure a State’s officials to be honest and ethical. There seems to be little correlation between enforceable laws and integrity. If in fact a public official has volition to do criminal acts, laws will not thwart him, and getting away with it a matter of willingness by the Federal Government to pursue it.
According to the CCR, Louisiana is considered by the rest of the nation to be one of four most corrupt states in the nation, along with Illinois, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Is this a bad rap? Is this slander, and if so, where is it coming from?
To help us understand this doldrum let us look at what the Justice Department has to say. It is well known that the Justice Department is very closed lipped when it comes to forwarding information, and their department of Public Affairs gives few meaningful interviews. However, the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section publishes an annual report that gives the number of actual prosecutions as well as convictions by Federal investigative means: (Report to Congress on Activities and Operations of Public Integrity Section for 2002).
In Table III, Public Corruption Convictions by District over the Past Decade, CCP took the total amount of actual convictions by each state, and calculated what they termed a “corruption rate” for every state defined to be the total number of corruption convictions from the year 1993 to 2002 as per 100,000 residents. Let me note here an important finding: The vast majority, as high as 80 percent, have been brought by Federal Authorities. Also, the Justice department reports only federal prosecution, so there is more on the table than meets the eye. A final caveat is that a federal prosecutor may not have the courage to bring to light certain convictions, and that there may also be limited resources to do so. Some public corruption will not be reflected in the Report to Congress, a public record, if it is locally enforced. Why would a Federal Prosecutor be afraid to prosecute?
Still in all, as corruption as the base line, Louisiana comes in third with a CCR rating as 7.05. Mississippi comes in first with a 7.48, and North Dakota second with a 7.09. Along with this there is noted the least corrupt states in the Nation, i.e., Nebraska with .05 wins first place, Oregon .059 being second, and New Hampshire .86 is third.
One state is exempt from this survey, The District of Columbia. They have almost 11 times more corruption then Mississippi, with a rate of 79.33. The District of Columbia is the seat of our federal Government. There were 453 public corruption convictions in the last ten year period. CCP says this is the first ever corruption ranking ever done in the United States, and its results are mind boggling. It is apparent we have a very active and corruptive federal government as well.
It seems that corruption is thwarted most often by citizenry groups, avid and unafraid reporters and unbiased newspapers, not on the take. There seems to only be a handful of these in our state. Strong judges, and moral and civic leaders do more than anything else to promote federal investigations for accountability in government institutions. How ambiguous… where laws are in place but uninforced. Whether the clean up will come from within or without just seems uncertain at this time, however…
I have heard more than once in casual conversation that the Federal Government is looking at Louisiana very closely after Katrina, because of the power struggle over those Federal troops that Governor Blanco had to formally request. In the ensuing argument over control that went on for days, people were suffering and dying without food or water. The Federal Government will not be the fall guy for what inabilities and internal corruption we have in local government, and it is my understanding that as time goes by these inabilities and corruptions that are now under investigation will be fully disclosed to the American people. However, it may be the pot that calls the kettle black. When a light is turned on, even a spot light, the person holding the light is illuminated too.
It seems that Katrina did more harm than any natural disaster ever recorded, but it promises in the long run to be the catalyst to wash out Louisiana corruption for good, or at least for a time. I paid attention while searching for my parents and the slow response was attributed to this: Naquin, a Democrat, backed Jindle, a Republican, in the Governor’s race. Blanco, a Democrat, won, and never forgot what Naquin did. Blanco did not have a channel of communications opened with Bush because of the partisan war between Liberals and Conservatives, which has polarized this country. Blanco had to request Federal Aid, but said she had to do her homework first, to see who would be in control of Federal troops. The Federal Government is in control of Federal Troops, that is the whole idea, and yet for about 4 days the war raged, while hundreds of people perished in the heat. Can’t our leaders set down their own petty differences for the common good? Do they care more for personal gain, welfare, and ego, than for the lives of their fellow Americans?
There is a well known organization based in Berlin who combats international crime and corruption around the world. They are called Transparency International. They too put out a yearly index on perceived corruption, taking an active monitor of 133 countries, giving scores from 0 to 10. Ten is the best. Finland wins hands down with a 9.7, Iceland 9.6, Denmark 9.5, New Zealand 9.5, and Singapore 9.4. Bangladesh is the most corrupt at 1.3, Nigeria 1.4, Paraguay 1.6, and Burma takes the four slot at 1.6.
How did we do? We tied Ireland at 7.5. CCR stated: “Because the Justice Department’s statistics on corruption in the United States have rarely been publicized, the world might not understand the true extent of decay here in the United States.”
They urge that the Justice Department could help curb corruption in the US by increasing its budget for prosecution, and stop withholding information about corruption. “Unshackle the attorneys at the Public Integrity Section and let them speak with reporters and the public about the scourge of public corruption in the United States.”
Should we be ashamed of ourselves here in Louisiana? You bet. It’s not so much that we are the laughing stock of the nation, but that we actually harbor criminals in our system of government. You may be different, but collectively, Louisiana voters are in the Twilight Zone. Louisiana voters know politicians are corrupt and vote for them anyway. Is it possible they vote for them because they are corrupt too, and actually identify with them? Perhaps they are too busy to do the homework necessary to understand what a politician stands for. Perhaps their vote is as shallow as the color of a man’s face, or just vote the party line they knew when their fathers were paying attention fifty years ago. Perhaps they hope that those promises are true, and that their crooked politicians will throw a few crumbs their way, simply because they are from the same city. Louisiana is a joke, mostly, because the majority of our voters are.
The billions given for Katrina relief are not accountable to the Feds. It is in the hands of those whose past is questionable, by deeds, by family ties, and by association. The promised portion of the monies for gambling was originally earmarked for the improvement of our school systems, also ranked second to last in the nation. What happened, and what has changed? Even our TOPS program, one of the few places our kids could compete on a level playing field without race, or economic standing getting in the way, is in jeopardy. Only Mississippi beats us as having the most illiterates, with the least progressive school system found in all the US. Perhaps if a greater part of Louisiana voters knew how to read, they would know better how to vote! Perhaps if a voter’s guide was the ten commandments they would be more selective! Is it possible there is a correlation between literacy and who we have in office? Makes ya’ darn proud, doesn’t it? Golly, we sure do shine!