Corruption is something that the people of Memphis have lived with for generations. Over the past several years, public officials from the statehouse down to the City Council have been caught with their hands in the proverbial “cookie jar”. With the recent indictment of former County Commissioner Bruce Thompson, one can only expect that more officials will be ensnared in the federal and state investigations that are currently taking place.
There may be a lot of reasons for these past and current problems facing our city and state, from pure greed, to a misguided sense of entitlement. Regardless of reason, corruption is one of the most destructive things that any democratic government can experience, disenchanting the public that the individuals were sworn to serve. From my perspective, focusing on the public servants who receive the money only deals with one side of the issue. Corruption is a problem of both supply and demand, and until both sides are addressed, we can expect the problem to continue.
In the recent and current investigations of corruption, some have suggested that the sting operations amounted to entrapment. This view only looks at the circumstances of the events, instead of recognizing the behavior. An official that would take money from an undercover agent, most likely has taken money from others. It is this pattern of behavior that the undercover operations wish to expose. Unfortunately, so far they have only served to show that the official in question engaged in corruption in this particular instance. While these revelations may be valuable in curbing corruption in the individuals involved, it doesn’t address the other side of the issue.
Dealing with the supply side of the issue, or the bribers, as it were, is a much more difficult problem to address. Investigators have had no trouble in finding officials that would willingly take money for favors. Finding those who would seek the favors has not yet happened. In order for the supply side to be addressed, a couple of things must happen; 1. Public officials must be willing to expose those who would seek favors, or 2. Those seeking favors must be so brazen and open about their quest that it cannot be ignored. Number 2 runs contrary to common sense. No one seeking to bribe an official would seek to do so “in the light of day”. Unfortunately, so far, none of those convicted seem willing to expose anyone on the supply side of equation.
Elected officials don’t really go out cold calling for bribes. The bribers come to them. Until the source of the money is addressed and the “bribers” are put behind bars, there is no chance that certain elements within the ranks of elected officials will straighten up their acts, the temptation is just too great, apparently. Unfortunately, none of the individuals who have either pled guilty, or been convicted, have shown any public willingness to work with prosecutors to deal with the supply side of the issue. This may be due to the possibility that revelations of further corruption that may lead to further charges on the individuals, though one would think that such revelations would be met with offers of immunity from conviction. On the flip side, it may be more a reflection of the desires of the prosecutors, though certainly they must recognize that, like the drug trade, public corruption relies on the cooperation of both sides. On this point, I cannot make any declarations, though it would be a refreshing sight if prosecutors were able to indict and convict a high powered individual seeking favor for cash. Until this happens, many throughout the city will view these efforts as half-hearted, or only partially successful.
Despite this partial success, I hope that federal and state investigators will continue to investigate those who would use their office or financial might, to usurp the honest functioning of government. These investigations may only net those who receive bribes for now, but eventually someone will roll over in exchange for leniency and expose those who would seek favor. Perhaps the already have.