Despite the best efforts of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other leading Democrats to brand the Republican Party as "a culture of corruption," Reid and his allies should be careful about playing fast and loose with corruption allegations. Because when it comes to corruption, both major parties know how to play that ugly, bipartisan game, and always have.
None of this is meant to excuse the egregious behavior of congressional Republicans like former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who apparently conspired with high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff to do favors for the lobbyist's wealthy friends and campaign contributors, or ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) who took $2.4 million worth of payoffs to help defense firms get Pentagon contracts. DeLay resigned from Congress in disgrace on Friday and Cunningham is serving a lengthy federal prison sentence.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating whether high-level White House officials including political czar Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby - and maybe even Cheney himself - broke the law by "outing" a CIA undercover operative. And just to balance the political scales, there's a big uproar inside the Beltway about whether FBI agents exceeded their authority by executing a signed search warrant in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who represents New Orleans, the most corrupt city in the most corrupt state in the nation. It isn't a pretty picture.
And a mini-ethics scandal erupted right here in Nevada a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed that Sen. Reid had received free tickets to championship boxing matches at a time when he was being lobbied by the Nevada Athletic Commission and other people involved in a shady business controlled by characters like ex-felon Don King. As King might say, Only in America.
At first, Reid defended himself and his free tickets by asserting that as a U.S. senator and former amateur boxer he must keep track of what's going on in professional boxing; obviously, a thousand-dollar ringside seat is an excellent vantage point for doing just that. Later, however, our senior senator acknowledged that he had misstated the ethics rules governing his acceptance of the free tickets and vowed never to do it again. Well, as I said, it was a mini-flap and at least Reid didn't receive envelopes full of money, as did his besieged congressional colleague, Rep. Jefferson ($100,000 worth).
While we're focusing on Nevada, let's not forget our impeached State Controller, Kathy Augustine, who is a candidate for treasurer even though she's on record as stating that she's "too big for the State of Nevada." In a recent letter to the Reno Gazette-Journal, Ms. Augustine claimed that she had apologized for running her 2002 reelection campaign out of her Capitol office, and blamed wayward members of her staff. In other words, she wasn't responsible for her own illegal and unethical actions; it was those out-of-control staffers. And she wants to manage our tax money. Only in Nevada.
Appeal Internet Editor Kirk Caraway made an important point in a recent column when he urged his fellow Democrats to clean up their own house first before going after Republicans. "Voters aren't stupid," he wrote. "They see this (corruption scandals) as just more partisan warfare. It's easy to talk about ethical government when you do nothing but point at the other side of the aisle." Amen!
A recent Christian Science Monitor investigative report disclosed that the FBI has convicted more than 1,000 corrupt politicians at all levels of government over the past two years, and that indictments are up nearly 50 percent during that period. No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of corruption in a country that holds itself out as a model democracy to the rest of the world.
The FBI's latest strategic plan puts the anti-corruption campaign at the top of the Bureau's criminal prosecution priorities ahead of such things as fighting transnational and white-collar crime. "I think it's great," former federal prosecutor Melanie Sloan told the Monitor. "It's overdue." FBI Director Robert Mueller echoed her in a recent speech when he said that corruption "doesn't just strike at the heart of good government - it can strike at the security of our communities and our nation," and jeopardize border security.
Over the past 18 months the FBI has hired 200 new agents to assist the 400 who were already working on public corruption cases. One notable case involved 50 current and former soldiers and border enforcement officers who pleaded guilty to accepting cash to smuggle drugs and illegal immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico.
Given ex-President Clinton's own legal problems while in office, his administration wasn't interested in allowing the FBI to go after corruption in the GOP-controlled Congress, Ms. Sloan noted in her Monitor interview. But now, she added, "the political gloves are off." It's about time! Let the chips fall where they may, on both sides of the political aisle.
THEY'LL BE MISSED - Two distinguished Northern Nevadans, Hugh Gallagher of Virginia City and Maya Miller of Washoe Valley, died recently and will be sorely missed. Gallagher, an outstanding educator and athletic coach, was Virginia City's leading citizen for many years while Ms. Miller was a political activist and crusader for liberal causes who was always true to herself and her beliefs. Hugh and Maya, R.I.P.
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.