Cartier: Follow the money and make sure your elected officials accurately represent you (column)
March 11, 2018
In a recent discussion about the huge amount of money it takes to get elected and its power to entice corruption, I began thinking about the origins of political action committees and lobbyists and their evolution in Washington and influence in local government.
Most began as honest supporters of specific issues or ideals, and many continue that mission; however, the expression "follow the money" has become synonymous with power and corruption. Yet, we recognize that it often begins subtly, hidden within the depths of inspiring causes.
Passion for an issue or an ideal motivates many to enter the political arena, whether as an elected official or one engaged in working with one who is elected. The inspiration is in wanting to make a difference in this world, to leave a legacy that promotes something better than what we have today on our journey toward the American ideal. Personal interests develop into tangible activities and associations, which will help to promote these causes. It is the foundation of an engaged society.
Since groups of people carry greater weight than individuals alone, they form organizations, aka political action committees, that promote declared values and hire professionals, aka lobbyists, to help them achieve their objectives. These leaders specialize in targeting those who share similar interests and who are in power to make things happen. They generate public passion and influence outcomes.
Since political figures are inundated with hundreds of requests, given the cost of elections, money becomes a great attention-getter. However, at what point does personal passion for an issue become corrupt? Perhaps it's when personal benefit outweighs the cause, when support of an issue conflicts with ethical performance and when honor and duty take a back seat to ambition.
How often do we hear people complain about situations, yet are uninvolved in creating solutions? We admire those who step up, put their money where their mouth is and are willing to sacrifice a substantial part of their lives in service to others, whether running nonprofits or subjecting themselves to public scrutiny in a campaign election.
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We need to engage people in order to move forward, to address our most pressing issues, but it comes at an unrealistic cost. Raising money becomes a major part of the day just to be in a position to influence the change they feel is so necessary, but it can also generate a huge conflict of interest. Is it fair to brand anyone who accepts campaign donations as corrupt, when they must function in a system that demands thousands to millions of dollars to run? When does the money shift from fiscal issue support to a payoff?
Passion for key issues drives motivation, and disconnecting from passionate projects to serve the public may be challenging. President Donald Trump realized this when he had to distance himself from his international billion-dollar empire; complicated, to say the least. Yet, commitment to public service cannot be compromised.
We often associate corruption with Washington headlines, but human nature is the same across the globe, and it even resides in hometowns everywhere. While foreign involvement, power players, large sums of cash and secret deals sound like movie scripts, variations of corruption are present everywhere because power and money are fluid temptations and they develop slowly and subtly.
Ways in which local governments may not realize that corruption is in the making could be through seemingly innocent transactions. Perhaps that personal passion of theirs receives unwarranted attention and funding, circumventing normal channels. Or their banker's kid needs a job, although he's not qualified, but they're considering refinancing.
The foundation they support may need additional funding that doesn't quite meet regulations. They'd like to help their best friend's new business, so they use their influence to issue a government contract. Their personal or family business is paid by an organization that receives government funding that they approved. Subordinate personnel must validate their expenses and they eliminate those who might question submissions.
They decide that certain benefits or financial incentives, which they control, should be granted to them, even if it's unprecedented and not available to others. They approve projects for which they have a personal interest or contact and create barriers to other bids. They make unrealistic demands and create complicated regulations that prohibit the functioning of entities they dislike but which may provide value to the community.
There are many ways in which corruption can surface, and the only way to curtail its expansion is by active community engagement. Demand openness and make officials accountable. This is a representative government; make sure your elected officials accurately represent you.
Jacqueline Cartier is a political and corporate consultant in Colorado and Washington, D.C. For further information, visit http://www.cartierwinningimages.com. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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