A continuing battle on Ethics Alarms, one that bursts into flame when elections loom, is whether it is responsible to vote for an unethical candidate for office because he or she supports policies the voter favors. I resolutely vote “no” on that proposition, believing that in the long run, government and society are better served by plodding but trustworthy public servants than wily and corrupt ones. The ideal, of course, is to find candidates who are competent, trustworthy, dedicated and who pursue effective policies. Good luck.
Few cities have embraced the opposite of the Ethics Alarms approach more consistently than the District of Columbia. The nation’s most liberal region has traditionally chosen to ignore corrupt city officials, and has paid a high price. A culture of corruption has been festering in the District for decades, spear-headed by the smug, machine-politics reign of Marion Barry, elected both before and after a prison sentence for possessing crack (in the midst of an anti-drug campaign for schoolchildren, naturally). Barry still pollutes D.C. government as a city councilman, but his legacy is complete: the whole government is an ethics sewer.
In 2013, more than thirty D.C. employees were arrested, indicted, pleaded guilty or were sent to jail from such diverse cesspools as the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the Department of Human Services, the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., a city-owned hospital, the Office of Campaign Finance, D.C. Medicaid, the Corrections Department, a charter school and Medicare. The tally of money embezzled, accepted in bribes, defrauded or spent on illegal political campaign contributions was about $19 million. Former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing $350,000 in taxpayer money meant to benefit children. Former council chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to a felony bank fraud charge; and former council member Michael A. Brown confessed to an illegal bribery scheme. Colbert King, the Washington Post’s city beat columnist who tirelessly urges the city to clean up its act cataloged the extent of D.C.’s corruption last year. He pointed out: