Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Nation of Laws, not of Politics

The recent sentencing of former US Rep Tom DeLay brought another reminder that no one is above the law, and that civil society can and should determine the rules of engagement for politicians. A judge in Texas sentenced former DeLay to 3 years in prison for money laundering in connection with Texas elections.

DeLay insisted that his conviction "criminalized politics" but we in Illinois know better. We have heard the same defense from politicians across the spectrum, people like Scott Fawell and Robert Sorich, who insisted that they were innocent because all they were doing was playing hardball. Juries rejected that argument in Illinois, and the Texas judge did as well. The plain point of these case is that political campaigns are governed by laws.

It's not "just politics" to rig hiring evaluations to favor campaign volunteers in violation of a federal court decree. Especially when one of them turns out to have been dead at the time of the interview. It's not "just politics to shake down state contractors for payments to friends of a public official, even if those payments are disguised as "lobbyist contracts." And it's not "just politics" to launder corporate money through a series of political action committees, so that the money winds up in the hands of candidates who cannot legally accept corporate donations.

If we are truly a nation of laws, then it is all the more important that our elections be governed by laws. Elections determine who among us will represent the public, and therefore who will write laws. If elections are corrupted, then what legitimacy does government retain? The sentence ordered by Judge Pat Priest should serve as a reminder to politicians everywhere that what criminalizes politics is not laws, but politicians committing crimes. If you don't like the law, rather than violating the law, work within the law to change it.

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