Letter to the Editor

‘Dark money’ and corruption, here and abroad

The Jan. 13 editorial “Dark money labyrinth” appropriately urged big political spenders who hide behind a veil of secrecy in federal elections to exercise transparency instead.

In many states, a parallel development is too often overlooked. A surge in independent spending is invading the election of state supreme court justices, and much of it comes from hidden sources. According to a report we recently co-authored, “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12,” special-interest groups spent an unprecedented $15.4 million on TV ads and other election materials in state judicial campaigns during that period. In many cases weak disclosure laws made it impossible for the public to discern the sources behind increased interest-group spending.

Americans worry that justice is for sale. Voters have a right to know who is paying to put judges on their courts, and states that elect judges should immediately enact strong, real-time disclosure- ­reporting laws so that special-interest spending in judicial elections is forced into the sunlight.

Bert Brandenburg,Washington

The writer is executive director of Justice at Stake.

I read with interest the Jan. 14 front-page article “Corrupt Kabul’s ‘incorruptible’ traffic cop.” I witnessed corruption in Afghanistan when I lived there some 45 years ago, but we need to be clear as what we mean by corruption.

There was some high-level corruption — such as a cabinet minister selling off government equipment — but most of what is referred to as corruption was small payments to the grossly underpaid, low-level government employees. Not commendable, but these were more like tips than bribes, such as giving a small amount to the postal clerk when we mailed letters abroad or to a cop on the street when we parked.

We are much more clever in the United States. Instead of corruption we have lobbyists crawling all over Capitol Hill, spreading gifts and campaign contributions that, as the editorial “Dark money labyrinth” pointed out, come increasingly from undisclosed sources. And let us not even talk about the D.C. government.

Manuel C. Zenick,Chevy Chase

The writer was the World Bank resident representative in Afghanistan from 1969 to 1971.

 
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