Kwame Kilpatrick Is Just the Tip of the Corruption Iceberg

His real crime was being less sophisticated than the big players in a system that rewards self-interest while pretending otherwise

Kwame KilpatrickDave HoggFormer Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been sentenced to serve 28 years in federal prison, after being convicted of 24 counts of public corruption, including racketeering, bribery, extortion and mail fraud. By all accounts, Kilpatrick used his position to steer millions of Detroit citizens’ tax dollars to his friends and family while the city languished in poverty.

Kilpatrick was convicted of, among other things, directing jobs and contracts to friends and family. One thing that’s cool about the market is that no one has to trust a CEO to not be nepotistic. If his friends and family don’t bring in the dollars, he’s gone, no prison required. On the other hand, mayors aren’t responsible for making a profit. So there’s little incentive to hire the best people for the job. Voters have to keep a careful eye on who gets jobs and contracts, and who has time for that? That’s why they get pissed, because no one wants to have to spend time micromanaging their leaders.

It is true that some of Kwame’s convictions were for worse behavior than one can generally expect from a politician, including what appears to be straight-up stealing from a non-profit fund for personal and campaign expenses. But most of the charges were for bribery and "extortion.' For example, Kilpatrick charged his friend $75,000 in exchange for sending his company contracts. He also held up already-approved contracts for work until the contractor used his friend’s for subcontract work. In this way, Kilpatrick directed tax dollars from the people of Detroit straight to his and his friends’ pockets.

But it's difficult to see much difference between that “extortion” and the business-as-usual of, for example, the entire Department of Energy loan program. Over and over again, low-interest loans went to companies directly connected with Congresspeople, including to a solar company linked to  Nancy Pelosi’s brother-in-law.

It’s painful to eschew our romantic notions of politicians refusing all opportunities to act in their own self-interest. But painful as it may be to come to grips with reality, imprisoning politicians who aren’t sophisticated enough to wrap their self-interest in complicated land deals, access to initial public offerings and other obfuscations for decades won’t solve the fundamental problem.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade called Kilpatrick’s 28-year sentence "equal to the longest sentence" for corruption ever handed down to a public official. This is more time than is routinely handed out for rape and murder, which have much higher recidivism rates than public corruption.

Part of the reason for the long sentence may be a 2004 amendment to sentencing guidelines which allowed for longer stretches in prison for public officials caught bribing, extorting and committing fraud. According to the text, the amendment was meant to correct the problem that, "in general, public corruption offenses previously did not receive punishment commensurate with the gravity of the offense."

Sentencing judge U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said it was important to her that Kilpatrick's sentence reflect the seriousness of his crimes, as if fewer decades in prison would mean the state is okay with corruption. People are afraid that public officials are protected by their places in power from the sentences they deserve for abusing that trust.

And that fear is justified. Sort of.

In his book, Throw Them All Out, Peter Schweizer details all the ways politicians effectively sell their legislative influence. In short, businesses offer politicians who support favorable legislation loans with below-market interest rates and/or the opportunity to participate in very lucrative investment opportunities.

Kilpatrick was caught holding up contracts for sewer work to direct them to his friends. But while we’ll never know how exactly how Pelosi’s connected company was chosen for a loan, or how exactly she was compensated, that his behavior is criminal while hers is merely a story on NRO seems more like class warfare than actual justice.

Kwame Kilpatrick is an anomaly only in scope and lack of sophistication. It’s business as usual for companies, industries and special interests to support politicians in exchange for direct payments, subsidies and tax breaks from the government. Totaled up, this kind of crony capitalism costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year. Then there’s the innovation and productivity lost when companies rent seek instead of competing in the marketplace.

Anger at corrupt public officials stems from the difficulty of government oversight. Faith in this system of government requires faith in the people at the helm. But if there’s anything to be gleaned from every scrap of recorded history ever it’s this: A system which requires we trust individual actors to not act in their own self-interest is not a good system.

All that anger is understandable. But in Mahatma Gandhi's—or somebody's—immortal words, “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.”

Here’s an analogy. You see your toddler has a screwdriver in his hand and he’s pointing it at an outlet menacingly. You can either wait for the shock, or take the screwdriver away from the toddler. In case it wasn’t clear, politicians are toddlers, and screwdrivers are regulatory power. Only in real life, it’s usually just the taxpayers who get shocked.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Voters have to keep a careful eye on who gets jobs and contracts, and who has time for that?

    That's why the Fourth Estate is so vaunted. It keeps its eye out for the bad acts of administrations. Unless they're Democrat administrations. Which every major city has.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Like you, I saw all the years of incessant investigative journalism about CGI getting the ObamaCare contract in spite of Canada firing them for a job that was tiny by comparison.
    /sarc

  • JidaKida||

    Funny how they always gotta make a big ole "Black Thang" out of it!

    www.AnonWonders.tk

  • Rich||

    Way to miss the point, AnonBot!

  • Rich||

    Kwame Kilpatrick is an anomaly only in scope and lack of sophistication.

    Upon review, I apologize.

  • Atanarjuat||

    I listen to a lot of radio when I'm in the car (no smartphone), and am familiar with black-oriented programs like DL Hughley, Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner, and Michael Baisden. Much of the opinion given on topics is presented through the lens of race, how blacks are screwed, how whites and Republicans are racist, etc. (Tom Joyner's not as bad about this).

    Which is really strange for me since I interact with black folks all day at work, at school, shopping and socially, and the only racism I've seen in the last few years was a black guy calling a Hispanic clerk "Speedy Gonzales" before storming out of the store.

    Anyway, if you think the prominent black voices out there aren't going to present Kilpatrick's conviction as racist (even though white Governor Helmethair just got convicted too), you're insane.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    But without regulations we'll all die from falling airplanes and botulism. Falling airplanes covered in botulism, IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?!!!!

    Oh, but that's just a start. Tremble with fear at the AP's dystopian vision of post-shutdown America. That's what we'll get if we choke the precious flow of life sustaining federal regulations. And we'll deserve it, dammit! We'll deserve it!

  • ||

    Flow of federal regulations choked off? Are these regulations consumable and must be constantly refreshed? We need a flow of them?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Regulations are the sweet nectar which sustains this nation.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Our food was a little less safe, our workplaces a little more dangerous. The risk of getting sick was a bit higher, our kids' homework tougher to complete.

    Say what?

  • Atanarjuat||

    "Kids, go home and write a report using statistics from the BLS website. If it's not running because of the shutdown, you get an F and it's the mean Tea Party's fault."

  • Jordan||

    Great article, Cathy. Funny how statists always assume the worst about people engaged in voluntary trade, and simultaneously assume that we'll always be governed by omniscient, altruistic ubermensch.

  • ||

    "A system which requires we trust individual actors to not act in their own self-interest is not a good system."

    Creating a system where Top Men can act unfettered towards the good is the essence of Progressivism. Trying to explain to a true believer that such a system will only ever result in disaster is an exercise in futility. It just doesnt compute for those people that Progressivism, despite all rhetoric and good intentions, is in practice indistinguishable from every totalitarian system ever devised.

    See Tony's desire to see Jugears made president for life and given complete control over all industry. Sieg Heil Tony, Sieg Heil!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    This is why I think the term 'progressive' has become as amorphous as 'neocon' was in the recent past. Kirkpatrick was surely more an example of the kind of Tammany Hall, ethnic-based, crony style municipal machines that Progressivism actually sprung up in opposition to, yet commenters here lay him at the feet of 'progressivism.' Whatever Kirkpatrick's faults were, being an expert technocrat does not seem to be one of them.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's a whole lot of dumb.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    On the other hand, there is not a whole lot to your comment, at all.

    Is there something in my comment you think is incorrect?

  • sarcasmic||

    Like I said, it's a whole lot of dumb. I'd have to go over it line by line, then deal with your idiotic retorts. You're not worth the effort.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    But worth the effort for your comment. Interesting.

  • John||

    Yes, it was created to form "good government". But its solution of embracing govenment control of nearly everything created more Tammy Hall type corruption than it ever stopped. So the fact that it was intended to stop it doesn't matter. What matters is that it made a problem it claimed to solve worse.

    Detroit is in many ways the ultimate late 20th Century Prog laboratory. No city, not even New York or any of the cities in California embraced Progressive policy ideas more than Detroit. And it created a culture of corruption, dependence, decay and poverty. Progressives own the Detroit disaster. Any honest Progressive ought to be shocked by the results Prog policies achieved there. The fate of Detroit in a sane world would cause a total re-evaluation of Progressive policies at the local level. But we do not live in a sane world.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I think it is bizarre to lay Tammany Hall style political machines at the feet of the movement that sprung up to combat them. Progressives have their own type of evil (an arrogance that government can fix anything in a 'scientific' way), but big city, ethnic based political machines pre-dated Progressivism and were, in many ways, their anti-thesis.

  • John||

    I think it is bizarre to lay Tammany Hall style political machines at the feet of the movement that sprung up to combat them.

    So no proposed "solution" to a problem ever ended up making the problem worse? There is nothing bizarre about that at all. The evidence is what it is. What is bizarre is claiming that just because Progs intended to solve a problem that they therefore can never be accused of making that problem worse.

    Yes, when you make a more powerful government, you make corruption that much more lucrative and that much more likely. No amount of good intentions or Top Men is going to change that. The corruption of Tammany Hall is actually quite quaint compared to places like Detroit. Tammany Hall was really just a contracting kick back scheme. The amount of money stolen was small compared to the total budget of the city and the city government actually functioned under Tammany Hall.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    The quintessential Progressive policy in the urban setting is a city manager, and a strong one, running the city in a technocratic fashion. I can not even find any evidence that Detroit had one at all prior to the appointment of the emergency manager' recently. So it is hard to say Detroit was a model of 'progressivism,' unless that term has devolved and stretched into meaning 'anything on the left.'

  • John||

    The quintessential Progressive policy in the urban setting is a city manager, and a strong one, running the city in a technocratic fashion.

    That is one policy. But it is not the only one. And both Stockton California and San Bernidino, California have city managers and are both bankrupt. These cities are not bankrupt because they have a mayor or a city manager. They are bankrupt because they have huge, over paid bureaucracies and regulatory schemes that have sucked the city dry raising taxes and driving out business. That is quintessential prog policy at the state and local level; a death spiral of high taxes and regulation causing more and more business and productive people to move elsewhere until finally there is no one left to pay the bills.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I think you are conflating several things that are, of course, real problems and laying them all at the feet of 'Progressives.'

    It is proper to lay the cost of bureaucracy and regulatory schemes at their feet. The arrogant, active and technocratic style of government they have fought for is the cause of much of that.

    But pre-dating Progressivism, and actually something that many Progressive reforms at times mitigate, was old fashioned, political machine corruption, usually found among 'hyper-democratic' regimes with strong mayors and councils that Progressives loathed. That seems to be what Kirkpatrick was up to. I seem to recall that most, if not all, of his corruption charges involve old fashioned urban expenses (and common sources of corruption), the kind you would find depicted on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, rather than progressive largesse.

  • John||

    For the fifth time you half wit, just because intended to solve a problem doesn't mean they didn't make it worse. The results are what they are. By creating a powerful government, the Progs enabled people like Kilpatrick to be ever worse than they were before. The Progs made the problem they set out to solve worse.

    Claiming "but they intended to stop this kind of thing" isn't an argument. Lots of solutions end up making the original problem worse. You are not making any arguments here. You are just repeating the same stupid mantra that the Progs meant well. We all mean well.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    But progressivism is more than 'creating a powerful government.' Other movements 'create a powerful government' in many ways. Social conservatives helped create many of the first large government bureaucracies with the Comstock and similar 'morals' laws at the federal level. National security conservatives help create many government bureaucracies (remember, the modern defense department is the largest federal agency by employment).

    Progressivism also included, in fact in its early days largely focused on, things that were the anti-thesis of Detroit's politics since the 1970s, policies such as the strong city manager. So if you want to lay the pension problems at the feet of the Progressives, or the stifling effect of their regulatory schemes, by all means do. But to blame them for old fashioned corruption when the city seemingly did not adopt urban anti-corruption measures which were central to the movement seems incorrect and sloppy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Progressive policies are circular dumb.

    They see the rich and the corporations controlling the government, so they give more power to the government that is controlled by the rich and the corporations so it can control the rich and the corporations that control it.

    When this results in more power to the rich and the corporations that control the government, they give more power to the government that is controlled by the rich and the corporations so it can control the rich and the corporations that control it.

    When this results in more power to the rich and the corporations that control the government, they give more power to the government that is controlled by the rich and the corporations so it can control the rich and the corporations that control it.

    When this results in more power to the rich and the corporations that control the government, they give more power to the government that is controlled by the rich and the corporations so it can control the rich and the corporations that control it.

    Like I said, it's a whole lot of dumb.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I do not disagree with your statements of where progressives make mistakes, but I will say it is irrelevant to my point.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    when the city seemingly did not adopt urban anti-corruption measures which were central to the movement seems incorrect and sloppy.

    You seem confused. Modern progressives don't believe in such things, even if progressives 100 years ago did. The modern progressive has more of an eggs/omelets philosophy.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    This is kind of my point, we lump a lot of things together as 'progressive', including movements that, historically, are incongruent.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yes, and the same thing happens with "liberal," "conservative," and even "libertarian." Context, man, context.

  • sarcasmic||

    You are just repeating the same stupid mantra that the Progs meant well. We all mean well.

    Even that German dude who gassed millions of people didn't wake up every morning dreaming of the most evil thing he could do that day. He honestly meant to do well for the Fatherland.

    All he did was take Progressive principles to their logical conclusion.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I am not talking about Progressive intentions, I am talking about their policies, critical ones Detroit did not adopt.

    More importantly, the kind of kickbacks Kirkpatrick was caught in, and his style of politics and governing, pre-date progressivism. So it is silly to lay it at their feet. I can name a lot of sins of Progressivism, but massive corruption from a mayor under a strong mayoral system in doling out basic government services will not fit.

  • sarcasmic||

    The policies always involve more power to curb the abuse of power, then they are shocked when that power is abused.

    So they give more power, and are shocked when it is abused.

    So they give more power, and are shocked when it is abused.

    So they give more power, and are shocked when it is abused.

    How did Einstein define insanity?

  • ||

    "Trying to explain to a true believer that such a system will only ever result in disaster is an exercise in futility. It just doesnt compute for those people that Progressivism, despite all rhetoric and good intentions, is in practice indistinguishable from every totalitarian system ever devised."

    Case in point: Bo on progressivism -"I think it is bizarre to lay Tammany Hall style political machines at the feet of the movement that sprung up to combat them."

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    My point is that you cannot blame Progressives for municipal corruption, it pre-dated their movement. And you especially cannot blame Detroit's corruption on it, as they evidently did not adopt progressive reforms that were central to that's philosophy urban policies.

  • sarcasmic||

    How stupid are you? OK. Rhetorical question.

    You do not fix corruption by giving people more power. All that does is make the corruption worse. Yet more power is the progressive solution to everything.

    So yeah. Progressives can totally be blamed for corruption when they give more power to people who are corrupt!

    Sometimes I can't believe how stupid progressives are! Fucking daft!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    If the corruption occurs in the area where more power is given, then sure. But did it here? As I recall Kirkpatrick's corrupt practices involve the kind of basic things Nucky Thompson does on Boardwalk Empire.

  • sarcasmic||

    mumble mumble forest trees mumble mumble

  • ||

    Either you missed my point Bo, or you are trolling again to distract from it.

  • sarcasmic||

    He's a fucking idiot. That's the only explanation.

  • John||

    In some ways you almost have to sympathize with Kilpatrick. Sure he is a crook. But he came up in a political culture where being a crook was expected and no one was ever punished for it. Maybe what he did was significantly and qualitatively worse than what every other politician in Detroit was doing over the last 40 years. But I doubt it. I just think he was unlucky enough to be the guy the US Attorney decided to make a point with. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all that the whole thing was orchestrated by his political enemies. In an environment where everyone is a criminal, using the criminal process for political purposes is very easy and in fact pretty much guaranteed.

  • SweatingGin||

    He was brazen about it. Really brazen.

    He did shit like order 10 suits from a tailor, then have a businessman pick them up on the way to a party. Oh, and pay for them, as well.

    Essentially all contracts with the city got funneled through his buddy's (also convicted) companies.

  • John||

    So really, like most criminals, he is going to jail for being stupid, not for being any worse than a lot of other people.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Yes

  • TANSTaaFL||

    I agree, though this is slightly different from a guy like Blagojevich who wasn't so much stupid a just really BRAZEN about it. I think part of that too was pissing off the wrong people, ie Obama and his coterie.

    In a way, I sort of give guys like Blago a bit of a break for being open about it. kind of like how movie villains who embrace their criminality are often more fun to watch and enjoy.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    One of his first acts was to lease vehicles for his family. People who criticized him got the race card played by his political allies.

  • SweatingGin||

    Oh yea, the Lincoln Navigator for his wife, that was "for undercover use". Leased for $5 less than the amount that would trigger city council review.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The ultimate in cronyism was demonstrated when the Bush Treasury Secretary held up a map of Iraq on '60 Minutes' that Cheney had drawn into quadrants for BP, Exxon, Texaco, and Shell to divy up the oil rights for each.

    At that level no conviction will occur though.

  • John||

    There is no sugar coating it, Shreek might has a low IQ and might have some mental issues.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Make note: John does not like it when Team Red is called out for their shit.

  • John||

    BUSHPIG!!! BUSHPIG!!

    Needs more CHRISTFAG Shreek.

  • NealAppeal||

    PB...still hasn't figured out that most libertarians aren't Team Red and dislike Bush as much as they do.

  • Brian||

    Mental note: PB thinks "Republicans do it, too" is a meaningful response to practically everything.

    What that meaning is, I have no clue.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -Shreek might has a low IQ

    Irony?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Typo.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Look John, you got the screeching lunatic Team Blue Concern Troll following you around...oh yeah and Shrike too.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    My goodness, Objectivists and their grudges certainly are resilient!

  • ||

    Honestly,can you just go back to the liberal planation?

  • Brian||

    There is no sugar coating it: PB seems somewhat mentally preoccupied with George W. Bush, regardless of the topic at hand.

  • JD the elder||

  • Acosmist||

    "Tu quoque" is a logical fallacy. Seriously. No joke! That's how reasoning works. So, you know, stop proving how stupid you are by constantly using it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If you're going to quote Ghandi, you need to provide context:

    Don't hate the player, hate the game
    Niggas, sharpen your aim
    Every baller on the streets is searchin' fortune and fame
    Some come up, some get done up, except the twist
    If you out for mega cheddar, you got to go high risk

    Yo, my name will sell better than rap like the Acropolis
    Suckers might as well step back, there ain't no stoppin' this
    Whack magazines who tried and tried to toppen this
    I still got more Lexus' and gators on my shoppin' list
    Make a fist, take your best shot, bet you drop it kid
    Hit more licks than you and never caught a bid
    Make the whole world go crazy, they said about the pig
    Bald-headed hoes step back, bitch go and cop a wig
    When I do a satyagraha, best believe it drop
    Every night I got my straps, best believe they cocked
    Some bitch talks crazy, then that bitch gets socked
    If a man steps up, then he too gets dropped
    Fuck the cops, I'm still foldin' fat knots
    Catch me on the weekend, floatin' my yacht
    Say Mahatma kick some game and I'll teach you a lot
    Knock your bitch no matter how hard your block
  • Ted S.||

    Ahem. Aren't there supposed to be some AM Links or something at 9:00AM?

  • Lord Humungus||

    ha.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Kilpatrick was caught holding up contracts for sewer work to direct them to his friends. But while we’ll never know how exactly how Pelosi’s connected company was chosen for a loan, or how exactly she was compensated, that his behavior is criminal while hers is merely a story on NRO seems more like class warfare than actual justice."

    Since there's no evidence that Pelosi was 1) connected in any way, shape, or form with the decision to provide the loan and 2) no evidence that Pelosi or her brother in law received any benefit from the loan whatsoever, I'd say the two cases are, well, utterly and completely dissimilar! Which is, in fact, obvious if you'd bothered to read more than two paragaphs of the the story you linked to.

    Just sayin'.

  • Brian||

    Voters have to keep a careful eye on who gets jobs and contracts, and who has time for that? That’s why they get pissed, because no one wants to have to spend time micromanaging their leaders.

    That's the job of the media, ostensibly. Ostensibly.

  • Jimbo BTR||

    Here's a better analogy: you look up and see your toddler with a pair of wires in its hands. You notice the wires are attached to your genitals. You see the toddler staring at the electrical outlet. You can either wait until the toddler delivers a massive shock to your most sensitive parts or you can jump up and grab the wires from its sticky little paws before it does so. The toddler is government and the part of you that's gonna get kicked is, well, your balls, of course.

    THAT is much more accurate.

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