Political crime is a phenomenon in American society. Although there may be some politicians who work hard to support public interests, generally speaking, most average Americans feel that politicians are dishonest and corrupt.
While political crimes come in a variety of forms, all involve politically involved officials who use their offices for personal gain rather than public benefit. Not only does this imply the betrayal of an individual’s official duties; it also betrays the official office, most of which are designed to serve the public.
Forms of Political Crime
Although there are innumerable forms of political crime, most of these crimes involve some form of fraud. For the purposes of this article, we will look at payroll fraud, campaign fraud, and fraud in the various branches of government.
Payroll fraud is a political crime that frequently happens in the various branches of government, but most often occurs within the legislative branch. Elected congress officials receive a generous budget to run their respective offices. A number of legislators throughout history have been charged and convicted of crimes such as extorting money from individuals and forcing kickbacks from their office staff. One variation of payroll fraud also involves an elected official’s hiring of personal household staff members and inserting them into the official ledgers, claiming that they were on the payroll. While the government provides officials with budgets for the maintenance of their staff at work, household staff members are not included. In these situations, a Congressman may have a landscaper on the office payroll, resulting in the government paying that landscaper rather than the official paying from his own personal income.
Another major form of political crime is known as campaign fraud. Students of legislative corruption frequently argue that the election process itself, and in particular campaign funds, constitute the basis for the most serious and pernicious forms of political crimes. There is a direct relationship between campaigning, raising campaign funds, and political crime.
In 1976, the Supreme Court determined that it was unconstitutional to have limitations on the amount of money that could be given to a political party because of the protection offered by the Second Amendment’s free speech provision. However, there are strict limitations on the amount of money that an individual or corporation can give to a politician personally.
Unfortunately, political criminals can get around these regulations through the use of “soft money.” Individuals and corporations can give an unlimited amount of money to a political party; therefore, political parties can generate incredible sums of money that they then redistribute as they desire. If a particular political party has a candidate running for president, for example, the party can invest the funds they raise in advertising and other forms of support for that candidate so that they can ultimately win the election and become more capable of making changes to standing policies. Some critics suggest that the current campaign system forces politicians to become crooked as they buy and/or sell votes.
Yet another form of political crime involves political lobbyists. Lobbyists are essentially promoters of products and services that are seeking political help or governmental assistance. The problem with lobbyists is that many of them commit political crimes such as offering “donations” (i.e. bribing) elected government officials in order to garner support for whatever organization or product they are lobbying for.
Bribes are a common form of political crime as well. Direct bribery payments are most common. In these bribes, one individual will bribe another directly with monetary funds. However, very often the bribery is not direct, but indirect. In indirect bribes, individuals receive “perks” as payment. In other words, a lobbyist may bribe a politician by offering an expensive vehicle or vacation.
Although political crime in the judiciary branch of the U.S. government is less common than crime in the executive or legislative branches, it still exists. Judges can be convicted of a number of political crimes.
In many historical cases, judges have been convicted of federal racketeering charges as a result of taking bribes, participating in illegal gambling, or even maintaining suspicious associations with organized crime cells.
Many judges have also been convicted of committing perjury, which is lying during an investigation or during a courtroom proceeding. Other judges have been found guilty of extortion or conspiracy charges.
Finally, one of the most common political crimes involves purchasing agents, who are responsible for making purchases for the government from staples to nuclear weapons. The government is one of the largest consumers of products and services in the world. As a result, the government’s budget allows for the spending of billions and billions of dollars annually, particularly on big-ticket items. Basically, enormous sums of money are exchanged for products and services and these transfers undeniably provide an incentive for criminal behavior.
With so many forms of political crimes being committed each day, many individuals frequently wonder: Why? Why are the people who should be looking out for the public’s interest succumbing to these deviant behaviors?
Reasons Why Political Crimes Occur
There are many reasons why political crimes occur. One of the major reasons they occur is because there are flaws in the way in which government is structurally organized. Many criminologists have theorized the political crimes are a way to knit together the separation of powers and overcome the dysfunctional dynamic of bureaucracy.
Another reason political crimes occur is because in politics you are dealing with ordinary men and women in extraordinary circumstances. For example, if, as a politician, an individual is offered a quarter of a million dollars to vote one way over another, most ordinary individuals will take it.
Political crimes also occur when people of wealth cannot directly influence policy making but they have a lot of money. They may not be able to directly make the law because they cannot (for some reason or another) get elected to office. If they could be elected to public office, they would vote a certain way, but they can’t so the next best thing to do is to influence that vote directly by paying off a politician.
Overall, political crime is an extremely complex area of stud, particularly because of the many variations. Despite these complexities, however, it is important for members of our society to keep in mind that these crimes do exist and should be adequately and appropriately punished when they do occur. Interestingly, however, many individuals have argued the political crimes are an inherent part of politics and that they serve a positive function, arguing that political crimes help to lubricate the bureaucracy of government.