Tag Archives: corruption

Nothing Easy About Organizing Against Corruption or any Organizing

Sofia       I was hustling about Sofia in my first full day.

We started with a briefing from CEGA, Creating Effective Grassroots Alternatives, where my associate, Liuba Batembergska, and Emil Metodiev, who was directing the professional fellows program for Bulgaria, was also a key staff member.  The organization has been around a while and works closely with communities around the country, especially Roma and other marginalized groups, on education and other community issues to support their gaining voice and change.  They have vast experience and credibility for their work, though it was somewhat disheartening to hear the twists and turns they have to manage to receive funding from the European Union and other sources.

Emil took us to a lower income area, largely populated by Roma, where donors had built a 4-story community center recently.  We met with a young woman who had been an alumna of the fellows program who was working with refugees, particularly adolescents and teens.  She was dynamic, articulate, and committed, but the center was quiet during our midday visit so it was hard to tell if this was a building answering a need, or a building seeking a purpose.

Most interesting was a meeting Liuba and I had with the leadership of the Anti Corruption Fund in the afternoon.  The organization was relatively new, having only formally announced its program in July 2017, but it was well funded with a commitment of $500,000 for two years giving it both capacity and a head-turning profile within both the country and among other nonprofits.  Miroslava Petrova, the CEO, gave us a spirited and detailed description of their protocols for investigating charges of corruption that were based on anonymous and other whistle-blowing information that they receive. Because of the nature of the sources they have to do rigorous review in order to maintain credibility, using four lawyers, and careful consideration before publication on their website.  They have received 60 such complaints and have succeeded in vetting a dozen of them to date.

More interesting to me than their complaint-driven system was the fact that they had done a larger scale analysis of the country’s procurement system.  Thanks to a well regarded open records law in Bulgaria they have come up with some shocking information that seems to indict whatever “even playing field” bidders for contracts might have assumed.  They haven’t yet released their full report, but it’s fair to say that a very, very small number of companies, less than two dozen, get the lion’s share of all public contracts, and, not surprisingly, when they looked at the money value of the contracts the concentration was also extensive.

We mainly spent time talking about how to structure campaigns, sharing experience from ACORN’s work, and how to build a base of support from all segments of the populations using direct communication rather than just social media and the internet.  There was no question they had mountains to climb in dealing with these difficult problems of corruption, which are seen as both everyday parts of life in Bulgaria as well as systemic problems.

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Is There No Limit to Corruption in Politics in the Age of Trump?

Gulfport   I really wanted to write about the implosion of the Miss America pageant: finally! Sadly, I’m not sure there’s anyway to kill that retro-abomination. The fact that the bosses at such a well known and widely advertised meat market would speak of the women like little more than carcasses is hardly a surprise to anyone vaguely conscious of women and their struggles in America for decades or anyone who has ever watched the pageant for even a minute. We’ve already been exposed to Trump and his operation of such pageants including those with teenage women, and somehow most people shrugged off their disgust. It was encouraging to see that forty-nine former Miss Americas came together to protest the remarks and demand the bosses resign, but, seriously, I can’t believe any of them were surprised, no matter how disgusted. Let’s hope the Miss America contest is finally DOA, but, I wouldn’t bet on it. This is a zombie that somehow can’t be killed it seems.

But, since we can’t seem to avoid talking about Trump even on this issue, let’s talk about corruption since that was even more in the news than the abuse of women. There was a piece about investigations of Trump son-in-law and the Kushner family getting a $285 million loan from Deustsche Bank a month before the election. There was another one about the Chilean billionaire scoring a big victory when his license to mine copper and nickle in Minnesota next to a protected wilderness area was approved. Oh, by the way, this billionaire is the landlord for the mansion in Washington, DC, being rented by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Hey, maybe it’s not outright down-and-dirty corruption, but it sure smells funny.

More seriously the new Republican tax plan seems to have been a huge gift to the President, his family, and in-laws and all of their real estate developer buddies. Once again, is that corruption or not? A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed earlier that accused the President of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, saying that only Congress can judge a breach here, which is a free pass for the Trump team to get millions every time they pass go, since the Republican Congress won’t be touching that problem with a ten foot pole.

Recently, I read Zephyr Teachout’s book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizen United. I’m a Zephyr Teachout fan going back to her path-breaking work in the Howard Dean campaign. I had her as a guest at several ACORN meetings to share her wisdom, and she was always gracious and effective. Her book is dense and lawyerly, but the bottom line argument is that the framers of the Constitution saw dealing with the risks of corruption and making sure there was not even an ethical hint of transgressions as immensely important. Her review of the evolution of lobbying from being flatly illegal to the way of our political world was a shake the shoulders wake-up call.

Nonetheless recent Supreme Court decisions, influenced in Teachout’s view by the lack of political experience by the Justices compared to many previous courts in our history, have made effectively policing of political corruption almost impossible. A quid pro quo no matter how clear seems almost impossible to prove without a confession, and that’s as unlikely as the men of Miss American admitting they are misogynists.

It almost seems a political license to steal with the lesson being to not be too, too obvious or Brazilian about it. It’s a safe bet that in the age of Trump, given their ethical obliviousness, it won’t get better, it’ll get worse.

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