Corruption ain’t new, folks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In addition to being a gubernatorial election year, this year has seen its share of political scandal and corruption.

The indictment of 11 lobbyists, senators and casino owners four weeks before the election stole the headlines but seemed to have negligible effect on the statewide races for governor and only minimal impact on the four senate races involved with the indictments.

It might appear that Alabamians are becoming somewhat blasé and accustomed to corruption and indictments in Montgomery. It has been said by many a professional prosecutor that you can pretty much indict almost anyone for anything. The bar for an indictment is a lot lower than for a conviction. It is often said by prosecutors that you can indict a potato.

If you can indict a benign potato, guess how hard it is to indict a lobbyist, a casino owner or a state senator. Many Alabamians would vote to indict someone belonging to one of these three categories without seeing any evidence. Most people would assume that they are crooked by the nature of their choices of livelihoods.

There are old political adages that ring true the longer you live and follow politics. One is that “all politics is local,” and the other is that many political prosecutions are derived from politics. Most would agree that had the Obama administration not allowed the Republican U.S. Attorney, Leura Canary, to remain in this position two years after her political appointment expired there would not have been any investigation and subsequent indictments surrounding the gambling debacle. Recent polls reveal that 65 percent of Alabamians believe that these indictments are politically motivated.

Lest you think that the sky is falling and the state is in complete moral decay, allow me an observation. Our state government is a whole lot cleaner and ethical today than it was yesterday. Prior to the 1970s there were no ethics laws in Alabama. Anything went. Not only were politics and state government totally corrupt, it was expected. You ran for office expecting to take bribes, accept favors and get rich. One state senator in the 1960s after being elected boasted, “I only need one term and I’ll be able to retire.”

Even Roy Johnson’s brazen pilferage of the junior college system would be mild compared to the corruption prior to the 1970s. What amazes me is how Johnson thought he could get away with the rampant, bold acts of thievery in today’s environment.

The bottom line is that today if you want to steal money you need to go into business rather than politics.You will get caught by the media and the ethics laws in politics. There are no ethics laws in business.

Without a doubt, politics were more decadent and corrupt in the old days. Big Jim Folsom ran for governor telling the country folks, “Old Big Jim’s going to steal a little, but I ain’t gonna steal as much as those Big Mules been stealin’ all these years.” He proceeded to cajole and buy the legislature with bribes as well as threats to withhold road projects from a stubborn senator’s district. This was just plain, old-fashioned politics.

In the old days it was not uncommon for every state senator to automatically receive a retainer from a major insurance company or a major Birmingham bank. These same lawyer legislators would get state contracts to do state legal work. Car dealer legislators would sell the state cars. Insurance legislators sold insurance to the state to insure all the buildings and cars. Real estate agent legislators would get contracts to appraise the land needed for condemnation to build or expand roads. Road contractor legislators would get the state contracts to build the roads.

Guess why? There was no ethics law. It was all legal. Today’s crooks are pikers compared to yesterday’s in Alabama politics.

See you next week.