Corruption in Sacramento

The arrest of Senator Leland Yee, based on charges ranging from public corruption to arms trafficking, shook up Sacramento this week. These accusations resulted from a combination of criminal actions by a group of people close to the lawmaker and the usually conflictive relationship of accepting campaign funds in return for favors.

First, it is hard not to be surprised that one of the state lawmakers most active in promoting government transparency—even to the point of regulating campaign contributions—is involved in this type of scandal. Even worse, that one of the main activists in favor of gun control was accused of recommending an international gun trafficker to an undercover FBI agent for the illegal purchase of weapons.

The accusations are serious enough to justify Yee’s inclusion, along with his colleagues Ron Calderón and Rod Wright, in the list of suspended senators. What is unacceptable, as we have said before, is that the three Democrats—two accused of corruption and one already convicted of voter fraud—are still receiving their salaries without working, as if nothing were happening.

The charges against the lawmakers confirm the distrust that exists among voters about their representatives. The decision to continue paying them raises annoyance to the level of reasonable indignation, seeing how legislators have each other’s backs in Sacramento with taxpayer money.

This case also deserves a second look at the campaign financing system that forces politicians to spend too much money on fundraising. An Assembly seat means spending almost half a million dollars, while a campaign for a state position like secretary of state, which Yee sought, represents millions of dollars in expenses.

The blame in corruption cases is not on the money that changes hands, but on individuals who act inappropriately. However, perhaps the temptation would not be as big if there was better control over the millions of dollars from lobbyists and special interests that with their donations contribute to the money swirling around political campaigns.