EconoMatters

US: Drain the Swamp? Forget It!

The rot needs to stop if public trust in government, already at a low, is to be restored. But the prospects for constructive reforms are poor.

Credit: Orhan Cam Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The rot needs to stop if public trust in government, already at a low, is to be restored. But the prospects for constructive reforms are poor.
  • Official investigations into conflicts of interest are sometimes launched, but rarely pursued.
  • The arrest on “insider trading” charges and lying to the FBI of Republican Representative Chris Collins is a blow to the current governing party. His “safe” New York seat now seems a possible Democrat gain.
  • If the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives, then prospects for President Trump’s impeachment will rise sharply.

The U.S. Republican Party faces a potential disaster in this November’s Congressional elections. Every seat is vital to preserving its majority.

If the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives, then prospects for President Trump’s impeachment will rise sharply.

That is why the arrest on “insider trading” charges and lying to the FBI of Republican Representative Chris Collins is a blow to the current governing party. His “safe” New York seat now seems a possible Democrat gain.

Collins was at a White House picnic with his friend Donald Trump when he got an e-mail from a friend on the board of directors of Australian pharmaceutical company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, telling him that a new drug had failed key tests.

Collins immediately e-mailed his son, who quickly sold his shares. Later, news of the failed test sent the shares into a dive.

Collins himself had been a director of Innate – is this appropriate for an elected politician? And, should such a public servant own shares in a publicly traded company?

To argue that everyone does it, and not just in the United States but across the world, does not make it right. In rare cases, such as the one involving Collins, there is a criminal act and a high-profile arrest.

Usually, however, the swamp of secretive collaborations between elected politicians, often their senior advisers, corporations and special interests, arouse far less of a stir. Have we become so cynical that we no longer care?

Daily news becomes routine

Conflicts of interest by many public office holders may be unethical, but they are not always illegal.

They may also get exposure in the media when a scandal erupts, but unless a serious crime is involved, as in the case with Representative Collins, then they are quickly forgotten.

Official investigations are sometimes launched, but rarely pursued. This applies all the more so in today’s United States as the U.S. office of Government Ethics has been turned into a toothless and largely ignored entity.

Sadly, problems like this persist as well all across Western Europe, where citizens take pride in living in a democracy and where transparency in government is meant to be taken seriously.

Alas, the bite of the law is often found wanting, not least because the rules have not been spelled out sufficiently yet.

The rot needs to stop if public trust in government, already at a low, is to be restored. But the prospects for constructive reforms are poor.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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