Paul Krugman does a great job of summarizing the scandals of the Republicans. It all boils down to Tom Noe (the Ohio Coingate scandal) and Tom DeLay (Texas redistricting, TRMPAC, the Marianas, etc.)
How could such things happen? The answer, it has become clear, lies in a web of financial connections between state officials and the businessmen who got to play with state funds.
We’re not just talking about campaign contributions, although Mr. Noe’s contributions ranged so widely that five of the state’s seven Supreme Court justices had to recuse themselves from cases associated with the scandal. (He’s also under suspicion of using intermediaries to contribute large sums, illegally, to the Bush campaign.) We’re talking about personal payoffs: bargain vacations for the governor’s chief of staff at Mr. Noe’s Florida home, the fact that MDL Capital employs the daughter of one of the members of the workers’ compensation oversight board, and more.
Now, politicians and businessmen are always in a position to do each other lucrative favors. Government is relatively clean when politicians are sufficiently afraid of scandal to resist temptation. But when a political machine controls all branches of government, and those officials charged with oversight are also reliably partisan, politicians feel safe from investigation. Their inhibitions dissolve, and they take full advantage of their position, until the scandals become too big to hide.
In other words, Ohio’s state government today is a lot like Boss Tweed’s New York. Unfortunately, a lot of other state governments look similar – and so does Washington.
Since their 1994 takeover of Congress, and even more so since the 2000 election, Republican leaders have sought to make their political dominance permanent. They redistricted Texas to lock in their control of the House. Through the “K Street Project” they have put lobbying firms under partisan control, starving the Democrats of campaign funds. And they are, of course, trying to pack the courts with partisan loyalists.
It’s a likely bet that the scandals we already know about, from Coingate to Tom DeLay’s dealings with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Now all we need is a press corps that isn’t afraid of its own shadow to get out there and do the real digging. The Toledo Blade deserves all the credit for Coingate. But where’s the rest of it going to come from when there’s another Tom — as in Tom Cruise — taking up all the oxygen?