What’s Corruption?

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Political corruption, defined as the abuse of public office for personal gain, has been present since ancient Greece and Rome. While some succumb to peer pressure, others view it as a natural state. Corruption can be rooted out by independent checks and balances.

There is an old axiom often applied to those with political ambitions: power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this case, the term “corruption” means the abuse of a public office for personal gain or other illicit or immoral benefit. Political corruption is a recognized crime, along with bribery, extortion and embezzlement. Some forms may escape legal notice, such as hiring relatives for key positions, but may not escape voter scrutiny on Election Day.

Whenever a person accepts a political office or wins election to office, he or she must take an oath to uphold the public trust. While this may sound noble on paper, enforcing this oath can prove problematic. Very few political candidates successfully reach office without making a few campaign promises along the way, and many of those promises are innocuous, like sponsoring a bill or lobbying for more funding for schools. Other promises, however, might come close to crossing an ethical line, such as hiring relatives or awarding government contracts to influential associates.

Political corruption has been a fact for thousands of years, beginning with the first attempts at democratic government in ancient Greece and Rome. Almost all the political representatives of these countries came from the wealthier class, which inevitably led to a division between the influential haves and the virtually powerless have-nots. The seeds of abuse were planted as soon as Senators and other political leaders realized that power and wealth could be equal. Political corruption often begins with favoritism towards those with wealth and influence.

In the modern sense of the term, this type of activity is an integrity cancer of a government agency. Very few public officials begin their careers with the intention of becoming corrupt, but some succumb to a sinister form of peer pressure over time. Being placed in a position of significant political power can be overwhelming, and the temptation to bend or break the rules for a perceived “greater good” is always present.

There are some seasoned politicians, however, for whom political corruption is a natural state of being. History is replete with examples of corrupt public officials, such as New York City’s Boss Tweed and his political cronies at Tammany Hall during the late 19th century. He charges ranging from bribery and bribery to nepotism, racketeering and fraud have all been leveled at Tweed’s administration, but he has been able to keep law enforcement at bay for years. A number of judges and law enforcement officers were already on Boss Tweed’s secret payroll. Political corruption can always remain a concern for democratic governments, but there are independent checks and balances that can root it out before it affects the integrity of the political body as a whole.

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