February 18, 2006
The case against my former representative in Congress, Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), is pretty unbelievable.
This morning's San Diego Union Tribune carries a copy of a handwritten memo that apparently specified exactly how much you needed to pay the congressman in order to get your defense contracts increased to a certain size. For example, going from $17 million to $18 million would cost you an extra $50,000 in bribes, but once you get past $20 million, we offer a special deal of an extra $1 million in contracts for only $25,000 in additional bribes.
Hubris at this level is quite a sad thing to behold. It also leaves one wondering whether something could be going on at this scale in Cunningham's office but nowhere else under the Capitol dome. Citizens Against Government Waste (hat tip: Instapundit) claims that there were 13,997 questionable projects added into 13 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2005, 50% more than the count two years ago and costing taxpayers $27.3 billion.
The Republicans only have two options-- clean house, or let the Democrats do it for them.
Posted by James Hamilton at February 18, 2006 09:49 AMdigg this | reddit
Too funny! Even more so if you realize that this kind of pricing strategy could only have evolved in an environment where there's competition for the clients' "business."
Posted by: Ironman at February 18, 2006 11:23 AM
Posted by: Movie Guy at February 18, 2006 11:47 AM
I was a registered republican at one time. But I will have nothing to do with a party that is beholden to corruption and wild-eyed fanatical zealotry. As an independent, I like to say that the democrats have no direction, but the republicans are headed in the wrong direction. The republican party is consumed with power at the expense of rational fact based thinking.
Posted by: T.R. Elliott at February 18, 2006 12:39 PM
Randy can hope that Hillary gets elected. She'll sell him a pardon, no problem.
Posted by: Jim Howard at February 18, 2006 01:17 PM
"... we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Excerpt from Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell speech to the American people. 1961
Posted by: Stefan at February 18, 2006 02:04 PM
These are the Republicans who came to power in 1994 as dedicated reformers. That actually worked for a while. Now they are like the Democrats they replaced.
True, these Republicans could be replaced by Democrats but, that wouldn't help. There are no Democratic party reformers. The Democrats would take us back to pre 1994 immediately.
Posted by: Max at February 18, 2006 04:30 PM
The House Republicans are adopting option #3 - PRETEND to clean house.
Posted by: pgl at February 18, 2006 06:54 PM
I think the Americans that allowed this gang to come to power with their votes and their financial support owe their country an amends. It is your patriotic duty to look at your part in what has gone wrong. What exactly led you astray? Were you manipulated by rhetoric? Your conservative values? If you don't understand your mistake, you may well repeat it, and this country can't affort that. You supported a bunch of rhetorical thugs who are fantastic at character assassination but in every other way qualify as the gang that couldn't shoot straight - and tens of thousands are dead as a result, including thousands of Americans. Who knows what further blowback we will suffer as a result of the bad decisions of this crew.
Posted by: camille roy at February 18, 2006 10:33 PM
Due to gerrymandering and their fund raising advantage, incumbent Congressmen and women have over a 95% probability of re-election. This makes the present value of incumbency very high, particularly for those who have a potential 20 more years of office to look forward to. At present discount rates (say 4.5%)the PV is probably north of $2.5 million or so.
Each bribe, on the other hand, seems to be fairly modest. Clearly, a rational bribe taker must assume that the risk of getting caught is less than 1% - otherwise the risk/reward is way out of whack and taking the bribe has a negative marginal utility.
The logical conclusion is that either Duke Cunningham is a very poor economist, or that the culture of corruption is so pervasive that the risk of exposure is in fact less than 1%.
Posted by: David Baskin at February 19, 2006 05:52 AM
IS 140 thousand the base rate for the 16 million
This piece of information is valuable, now
anyone seeking contracts can refer to this "Blue Book" guide to market rates for bribes.
Now, I know what I can do to get the biggest bang for my bribes. Yay
Posted by: informedconsumer at February 19, 2006 12:29 PM
This memo would make a great marginal cost, marginal benefit example in a principles of microeconomics class.
On a serious note, I'm afraid that Prof. Hamilton is correct. With a government as large as ours and rent seeking at an all-time high, there has to be more of this activity that is unreported. After all, for every rat you see, there is ten more you didn't see.....
Posted by: Chris at February 19, 2006 01:09 PM
Oh, but he can't go to prison - his wife has left him and he's got prostate cancer and might die in prison! Huh, too bad - he shoulda thought of that before committing felonies, the jerk.
Posted by: donna at February 19, 2006 07:23 PM
Chris: Good point about rent seeking. And consider the broader form it takes: The revolving door. To what degree are govt contracts influenced by greasing the revolving door as one plans to exit one side (e.g. government or the military) and jump to the other (e.g. a private contractor).
That's the potential. In practice, I'm not sure we'd really find graft to the extent that Cunningham has demonstrated. Duke was a known arrogant, not too bright fool (he represented my district, though as an independent allergic to most republicans right now, he didn't represent me). I know people who flew with him in the navy. He was known to be arrogant, full of himself, and not too bright then as well.
Duke Cunningham detracts from the hard work and efforts put forth by many in the public sector. Many take their jobs seriously and are trying to do the right thing. One can complain that they are beholden and constrained by "the system," but that's just as true in the private sector. How much more do we pay for goods and services because of payback and corruption that interferes with the workings of the market.
Answer: a lot. Maybe start with almost any work performed in China.
Posted by: T.R. Elliott at February 19, 2006 08:32 PM
More importantly, the Diebold voting machines are the greatest danger to the U.S.
Agitate for a paper trail.
Posted by: outsider at February 19, 2006 10:40 PM
The rot remains at the core of the institution. One telling example: House Republican leadership named disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay to a seat on the House Appropriations Commmittee: www.nytimes.com/2006/02/09/politics/09delay.html?_r=1&oref=slogin .
Posted by: Duncan Brown at February 21, 2006 07:01 AM
Anyone who says it's the Republicans - you are missing the point. It is imho human nature. Nobody pays any attention to what their congressman is doing, so they take bribes. What a shock. When's the last time you looked up your congressperson's voting record?
Posted by: quints at February 21, 2006 01:47 PM
Why don't you get off your butts, stop feeling sorry for yourselves and start a proper third party? Yes, yes...there are a million reasons why it can't happen but if some two-bit farmers from Texas could get organised, I don't see why you shouldn't try.
Posted by: Philip Martin at February 22, 2006 06:32 AM
Duncan is right: While we were entertained by the Cheney Shooting, Delay was appointed to the Appropriations Committee that oversees, among other bodies, the Dept of Justice.
Some house cleaning.
Posted by: calmo at February 22, 2006 11:18 AM
quints, not only do people not keep track of what politicians do, when they do find out what politicians do they tend to brush it off as human nature. So it's only human nature that politicians behave as they do!
Posted by: Barbar at February 27, 2006 08:10 PM