People elected to office take every opportunity to live the high life off of other people's money, to hide their and their aides' and colleagues' conduct, and then to protect themselves and their own from paying the piper.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 25, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Robber Politicians: Public officials living high and protecting their own

Cornelius VanderbiltCornelius Vanderbilt (caricatured to the right) was a nineteenth century entrepreneur who came from humble beginnings to corner transportation and financial markets in the United States. Vanderbilt was an energetic and brilliant man but most Americans don't react favorably to his name since he used his power and wealth to create advantageous monopolies - advantageous for Vanderbilt and his cronies.

But compare him with how politicians act when they assume political or party positions. At least Vanderbilt was an avowed capitalist, out for himself. Political figures are supposed to be serving others. Instead, they use their positions to rifle the public's pockets for relatively small change and so they and their friends can get away with . . . whatever.

Let's take two states as examples - New York and Florida.

New York - Democrats strongly oppose violence against women

David Paterson is the lieutenant governor who took over when New York Governor Elliott Spitzer, who railed against vice and corruption, was found to have a charge account with a call girl service. On taking office, Paterson admitted to having affairs, in order to get that issue out of the way. The New York press let that pass.

Since then, Paterson has advocated for women's rights to be free of violence. He strongly criticized Hiram Monserrate, who assaulted a girl friend and was kicked out of the state legislature. Paterson was irate that Monserrate's aides continued to contact the woman when she sought a protective order: "that's the whole essence of what domestic violence is. It's control."

A New York Times investigation has now revealed that the governor himself spoke to a woman who sought a protective order against his chief aide, David Johnson, after she said he ripped her clothes off and choked her. State police detailed to protect the governor also contacted the woman, even though her case was outside their realm of responsibility. The woman withdrew her request for the order.

Here's what the woman claimed the aide did:

"Mr. Johnson [who is 6'7"] confronted her in their bedroom, choked her, tore her Halloween costume off, pushed her into the dresser and then continued to choke her with one hand. . . .she screamed for Mr. Johnson to stop and then screamed for the help of a friend who was visiting. . . . Mr. Johnson first took one telephone from her to prevent her from calling the police. . . Mr. Johnson then turned to the woman's friend and told her to leave, 'if you know what's good for you.'"

Scary, huh? But not to Governor Paterson!

The woman told the court: "The State Police contacted me because they didn't want me to get an order of protection or press charges." Here's how the head of the state police - who was appointed by Paterson - described what occurred:

"The State Police superintendent, Harry J. Corbitt, said he was told of the episode within 24 hours after it occurred. He confirmed that a state police officer had met with the woman, even though the episode occurred in the jurisdiction of the New York Police Department. He said the visit was made only to tell the woman of her options, including seeking counseling."

Here's what Paterson said about the situation:

"Last week, Mr. Paterson said there had never been a judicial finding that Mr. Johnson had been violent with women, and he characterized the Oct. 31 episode as a 'bad breakup.' A spokesman for Mr. Paterson said last week that the governor had looked into the episode and that the complaint 'had been withdrawn.'" [After the Times article appeared, Paterson suspended Johnson without pay - apparently, even though he "looked into" the case, the Times article was a revelation to him.]

Here's how Paterson characterized what the woman's lawyer says was his phone call to her:

"Through a spokesman, Mr. Paterson said the call actually took place the day before the scheduled court hearing and maintained that the woman had initiated it. He declined to answer further questions about his role in the matter."

Would you call the governor of your state, and would he take your call?

So a Democratic governor outspoken about violence against women, who has criticized a state senator's staff for contacting a woman the senator assaulted, himself contacts a woman one of his chief aides is accused of violently attacking. His police detail also contacts her, after which she drops the charges, and then the governor says there was nothing to them. Way to stand up for women, David!

Florida - Republicans strongly endorse financial responsibility

One of the leading lights of the new conservative Republican movement for small government, Marco Rubio, running for the U.S. Senate from Florida, was revealed by the Miami Herald to have charged personal expenses on his party charge card:

"U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio charged grocery bills, repairs to the family minivan and purchases from a wine store less than a mile from his West Miami home to the Republican Party of Florida while he was speaker of the Florida House. . . .

Though Rubio said he tried to pay all his personal expenses, at least some ended up on the party ledger, records show. Three payments to a Tallahassee property management group, which Rubio described as personal, were paid by the party. . . . Rubio also booked six plane tickets for his wife using the card. It was unclear how many, if any, of those trips his wife actually took; in some instances, she did not fly and Rubio was credited by the airline." [The last sentence sounds like stealing.]

Rubio also spent copiously in his official position as Republican state speaker:

"When Rubio became speaker, he spent about $400,000 in tax dollars to remodel offices and build a members-only dining room so lawmakers rushing to meetings would not have to leave the Capitol to eat."

These developments followed on a number of other revelations of spending by Republican legislative leaders:

"Rubio was among at least a half-dozen high-ranking Florida lawmakers given GOP credit cards in recent years, allowing them to spend donations to the party outside public view. Revelations that former chairman Jim Greer and executive director Delmar Johnson charged chartered planes and lavish meals to their cards sparked a grass-roots rebellion and the election of new leadership last week. . .

The records also show that executive director Delmar Johnson padded his $103,000 salary with a secret, $260,000 fundraising contract and another $42,000 for expenses -- at the same time the once mighty Florida GOP was having to lay off employees amid anemic fundraising. . . .

State Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, the new party chairman, has resisted calls to release the statements of all party credit cardholders. . . ."

But, don't worry, a new Republican speaker has been selected:

"A top Republican selected Tuesday as the future speaker of the Florida House can't get his own financial house in order.

Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth's home is in foreclosure. He's struggling to pay a $2.7 million legal judgment from a bad land deal. And his driver's license was temporarily suspended after what he called a misunderstanding with his car insurer. . . .

Dorworth financed his bid to become speaker through his reelection campaign fund and his political committee, Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy. A good portion -- more than 30 percent, or $40,000-plus -- went to his pocket for reimbursements in the past two years, records show.

Among the recent expenses: A $600 flight to Miami for the Super Bowl and a $527 stay at the luxury Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables."

[Personal note: I stopped donating to the Democratic Party of New Jersey when former Governor Jim McGreevey, on a trip to Ireland, threw a party for his relatives at the state's expense. Although McGreevey had his lawyers fight disclosure of details of trip expenditures, when they were revealed, he repaid the money - from Democratic party contributions!]

So, the Republican party, noted for its fiscal conservatism and avoiding unnecessary spending, is headed by a group of men who took every opportunity to feather their own nests and live the high life on Florida and party funds. They needed this money because they can't manage their own finances.

In summary, political office is something people not as talented and energetic as Cornelius Vanderbilt use to grab money, live the good life, and protect themselves and their cohorts from exposure and criminal charges.