On Tuesday, Senator Ted Stevens was indicted by federal prosecutors for failing to report gifts he had received from an oil company to help him renovate his Alaskan home. The charges were not a surprise, though official Washington mustered its collective, and requisite outrage. Senators Dole and Sununu were quick to return campaign contributions from the now-tainted Stevens. Editorials across the nation were quick to condemn the obvious graft targeted by the government.
But I confess, I don't get it. Not that I don't see the wrong in what Stevens has done. That's obvious. What's not obvious to me is why this wrong is so different from everything else that DC thinks is right.
The concern with the gifts that Stevens allegedly took from oil companies is clear enough. If a Senator takes a gift from a special interest, he's less likely to weigh the interests of that special interest properly. If he's getting gifts from an oil company, for example, he's less likely to weigh concerns about global warming properly. He's more likely to ignore those concerns. He's more likely, in other words, to put his private interest (in continuing the gifts) above the public interest (dealing with the threats from global warming). These types of events are exactly why myself and Joe Trippi started Change Congress: as a way to address corruption in Washington D.C.