Ronald Calderon: FBI stings corrupt politician, call it a good start
Calderon illustrates what's wrong with our political system.
An investigative report has uncovered a tale of bribery and corruption in California that shows precisely what is wrong with our entire political system. A prominent politician is about to be publicly accused of corruption at the end of a long career.
The details have been revealed by the investigative unit of Al Jazeera, whose reporters reviewed the documents filed by the FBI against Calderon. The investigation, the report says, was conducted by an undercover agent and is detailed in his reports and others filed in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
The affidavit is 124 pages long and goes into great detail into how Calderon proceeded to accept cash for political favors and used a political non-profit as a personal slush fund.
The Al Jazeera report details how undercover FBI agents acted as independent movie executives who were interested in having a special tax credit for movies with budgets of $1 million or more, lowered to $500,000. Calderon agreed to push the legislation through in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash paid to himself and his children.
In one deal, the undercover agent and Calderon specifically agreed that the studio would "hire" Calderon's daughter for $3,000 a month, although she was unqualified and there was no work for her to do. The job was entirely fictitious, but the money was paid-- and spent.
Over the course of the operation, the FBI reported it payed Calderon around $60,000.
Calderon attempted to lower the tax credit to $750,000 but learned such an amendment to an existing bill would require a 2/3 majority vote. The effort was doomed. FBI agents took the setback in stride and urged Calderon to try anyway, which he did.
According to the FBI, Calderon, and his family, have accepted as much as $1 million from people who wanted to essentially buy a senator to craft laws that are favorable to themselves. Over the next several months, it is expected this case will enter the public realm and may mark the end of the Calderon family's political dynasty. Calderon's older brother Thomas has also held a seat in the state Assembly and his eldest brother, Chuck, became the first Latino Senate President in the 90s. As early as 1994 however, hints of corruption were evident. The state fined him $15,000 for using campaign cash for personal expenses.
The issue with the Calderon family is actually an issue with American politics. American politics are awash in dynasties floated with massive quantities of cash. Politicians do not sponsor legislation because it is wise. They sponsor legislation because it will help them get reelected. Every political stance, every move, isn't based on principles or morality, but rather is decided by what will gather donations and votes.
And in the Calderon case, bribes.
Since politics is all about money, only people who have access to large amounts of it enjoy access to government and its power. This disenfranchises people. Americans have lamented for too long that they never have real choices at the polls. This is true. Without the money to buy the right influence, your voice counts for naught.
The United States needs to dramatically alter its system to remove the money from politics altogether. The nation may have to go so far as to pass laws which actually limit the freedom of individual citizens who become leaders, in an effort to sequester them from corrupt influences. The law would have to ask individuals interested in high office to sacrifice personal freedom in exchange for political power and an opportunity to serve their country.
This isn't as terrible as it sounds, this is the same sacrifice we ask those who join the military to make. To sacrifice their freedom and possibly their lives, in exchange for the opportunity to serve the country and to protect the freedom of the whole. If our youth can answer such a call, surely our elders can too.
Calderon's offices were raided in June. The case against him is pending. When it happens it will be the end of his political career. The problem is not Calderon. The problem is the system that allows him and countless others to flourish for decades before being sent to prison-if ever.
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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