Whether you hit the barbeque, stayed up to watch fireworks, or spent some time with your loved ones, we here at Represent.Us hope you had a happy Fourth of July! On Independence Day many of us reaffirm the principles our country stands for. Some people, on the other hand, have been busy trashing our ideals.
Here are your top corruption-related stories from last week.
Ethics Chief Calls It Quits, Citing Ethics Problems
Director Walter Schaub resigned from the Office of Government Ethics after vocally holding the administration to account on ethics issues.
Back in Washington, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Schaub Jr filed a letter of resignation with President Trump and will leave the post July 19. Schaub, who has helmed the department since 2013, found himself in the headlines in recent months for pressing the administration on a number of ethics issues. Before the inauguration, Schaub called for President-elect Trump to fully cut ties to his business interests and has since criticized the administration for issuing ethics waivers without dates or retroactively. The outgoing director will soon head to work for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, where he’ll head up the organization’s ethics efforts.
The bottom line: Apologies if I sound like a broken record, but ethics. enforcement. matters. We’re sad to see an ethics expert leave, but we’re excited to follow the work he’ll do with the Campaign Legal Center!
Philly’s Top Prosecutor Jailed For Bribery
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams resigned his post, plead guilty and was carted to prison in short order in the wake of dozens of corruption charges.
It’s rare to get a corruption story this obvious. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pleaded guilty to a corruption charge, and the details of the case are stunning: Williams took hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and services, including a paid trip to a Dominican Republic resort, and pilfered money from his campaign and funds to pay for his mother’s nursing home. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, even after the city Ethics Board fined him $62,000 for his late gift disclosure, Williams could face an additional, court-ordered fine of up to $250,000. Now he’s leaving office and heading to prison, where he could face a sentence of close to five years.
The bottom line: The only way we can find out about corruption stories like this is through strong anti-corruption laws: strong, prompt disclosure requirements, ethics commissions with strong investigative powers and, in the case of serious violations, strict punishments.
The Texas Attorney General Is Taking Dark Money For His Fraud Defense
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revealed that $10,000 of his legal defense fund came from a secretive DC-area organization.
Ken Paxton, Texas’s attorney general, is embroiled in legal battles after being accused of misleading investors before he took office. Lawsuits are expensive. So to pay for those fees, Paxton has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars, including $10,000 from a secret group called the Annual Fund, Inc., the Associated Press reported. “Annual Fund,” headquartered in Virginia, has a nonexistent online footprint and does not list its principals. So, who’s paying to help Paxton fight his legal charges? We don’t know.
The bottom line: Without strong disclosure laws, we don’t know who’s attempting to influence or curry favor with our officials. When money can’t be traced back to its source, we’re all left in the dark and corruption can flourish.
There’s Hope?! Whoa. A New Proposal In Illinois Could Curb Conflicts Of Interest
After years of property tax valuations were found to have helped the rich, a Cook County commissioner is looking to prevent pay-to-play contributions.
We often only think of corruption as plaguing the highest levels of government, – but we can get a lot done when we set our sights a little lower. In Cook County, Illinois (home to Chicago), one official is working to prevent corruption from affecting property taxes. Commissioner Chuy Garcia’s proposed legislation would restrict contributions to the county assessor, who values those property taxes, from individuals and groups that appeal the assessments. Tax valuations can cost homeowners dearly – and disproportionately. The Chicago Tribune just released a multi-part analysis showing decades of property tax assessments that have benefited the wealthy and unduly hurt the poor.
The bottom line: Local corruption can make a huge difference in our everyday lives. It’s essential that we protect the integrity of our government at all levels by holding every official to a high ethical standard.
That’s it for this week. As ever, if you read a story you think should be featured in the corruption rundown, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.