The sad and tawdry sins of former Congressman Rick Renzi highlight the consequences of the crippling of campaign finance laws by reckless court rulings.
After wriggling every which way in an effort to thwart justice for five years, Renzi finally faced the consequences of his corrupt actions this week.
A Tucson jury convicted the congressman who represented Rim Country for almost six years on 17 fraud and abuse of power charges. Hopefully, he will as a consequence spend years in prison, with all the other thieves.
Renzi abused his position of trust and authority to enrich himself and his friends. The jury decided he had threatened and wheedled until the federal government agreed to pay his one-time business partner some $2.6 million for a piece of property needed to put together a land trade. The business partner paid Renzi some $700,000 of that amount, a repayment on a debt.
Renzi also violated campaign finance laws by effectively embezzling money from his family insurance business and shifting it over into his campaign.
The case illustrates the grave potential for corruption that goes with any political job, with favors to grant and billions to spend.
Unfortunately, in the five years since Renzi got caught swindling the voters who elected him, the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted the laws intended to at least make it hard for special interests to secretly buy their own private collection of public politicians.
The court ruled that corporations, special interest groups and political action committees have all the free speech and political rights of real people. Therefore, they can now spend as much money as they please getting individual politicians elected so long as they don’t “coordinate” their ad campaigns and personal attack ads. The groups need not even reveal who they’re representing and where they got their money.
Big money moved quickly into the gaping wounds in the campaign finance laws the court inflicted. In the last election cycle, special interest groups spent more than ever before — and the ban on “coordination” ad buys and strategy proved absurdly easy to circumvent.
Renzi’s outrageous behavior reveals the terrible potential for corruption in the system. Unfortunately, since he ran his scam, it’s gotten much, much worse.
Ugly is as ugly does
It’s getting ugly down at the state Capitol.
But then, civil wars are always the worst.
After months of deadlock and delay, Gov. Jan Brewer administered a slap-down to the Republican majority in the House. She cut a deal with the state Democratic contingent, enlisted nine breakaway Republicans and called a special session to ram through a version of the budget she proposed back in January over the fierce opposition of a majority of the Republicans in the chamber.
The budget proponents refused all debate and rejected all amendments. That felt outrageous, high-handed and undemocratic to the Republicans suddenly converted into a minority — including our own representatives Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe. Gov. Brewer’s budget passed through the all-night session untouched — an $8.8 billion mystery wrapped in an enigma. Never mind the AHCCCS expansion — billions in spending slipped through the process like the Mogollon Monster in the moonlight.
In truth, House Republicans dug their own bear trap on this one. They should have taken up Gov. Brewer’s budget six months ago and worked carefully through the details. Instead, they stuck their heads in the sand and said they wouldn’t take a breath until the government made the nasty AHCCCS expansion plan go away.
By the time Speaker Andy Tobin finally sent the budget bills to committee this week, no one had time for a thoughtful debate anyhow. Mind you, even at this late date — the House Budget Committee got off in the weeds with another futile effort to kill the AHCCCS expansion and a strange little debate about the warrantless inspection of abortion clinics.
So now the Republican lawmakers on the losing side of the vote are vowing to seek revenge in the primary against the nine Republicans who joined with the Democrats to adopt the Republican governor’s budget.
All of which makes us wish the voters had adopted the open primary proposition last year. Even more, we wish we could banish political parties altogether. They’ve become the problem rather than the solution, with their froth-at-the-mouth orthodoxy, their eye-bulging fulminations and their obscure and tiresome jihads.
What happened to the concept of citizen legislators, bringing to bear diverse backgrounds and common sense and voting their conscience? When did it all come down to party labels, loyalty oaths and the dictates of a handful of party leaders?
It’s just so, well, ugly.