Less Regulation Means Less Opportunity for Government Corruption

Smaller government has the possibility to be more honest government.


Ingram Publishing/Newscom

The federal indictment of a former Massachusetts state senator, Brian Joyce, gave some headline writers an opportunity to focus on the comic element of his alleged scheme.

The Democratic politician pleaded not guilty. He was charged in part with having accepted 504 pounds of free coffee from a franchise widely identified as Dunkin' Donuts. With Saturday Night Live already memorably mocking that company's seductiveness for a certain element of lowbrow New England culture, it's tempting to react to the Joyce news with a certain Boston cynicism—"at least it wasn't Stahhbucks"—and move on.

But there are some serious points here, too. It will be interesting to see whether the federal effort to make "honest services fraud" charges stick against Joyce are any more successful here than were so-far failed efforts by zealous prosecutors to criminalize sketchy but maybe not actually criminal behavior by the Republican governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell; by the Democratic Speaker of the New York legislature, Sheldon Silver; and by the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos.

In all three of those federal cases against state-level politicians, judges eventually defined honest services fraud differently than prosecutors did, and dismissed the convictions. The Supreme Court's 8-0 opinion in McDonnell v. United States was emphatic on the point: "conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns…The Government's position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships."

The opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, warned that if the prosecutors prevailed, "officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse. This concern is substantial."

The honest services fraud issue is just one part of the story here, though. Reading the indictment—which includes charges of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, defrauding the IRS, and bribery—it's hard to miss the fact that a lot of the alleged corruption involves government interference with free markets. The "nationally branded coffee and pastry fast-food business" had an interest in state laws governing the relations between franchise holders and parent companies, and in "tip-pooling" legislation about how employees split tips.

The indictment also discusses Joyce's involvement in allegedly "exerting pressure on and advising" members of a town planning board whose approval a developer needed to subdivide a piece of land.

The indictment also features a company "interested in promoting property-assessed-clean-energy 'PACE' legislation in Massachusetts. PACE was an alternative energy financing program that required state legislation because its funding was derived from issuing bonds that were secured by increased property tax assessments."

If state and local government just let restaurants do what they want with their tip money, let landowners do what they want with their property, and let people who want solar panels or windmills on their property pay for them themselves, there would be less opportunity for corruption.

Smaller government, in other words, in addition to whatever other virtues it has, has the possibility to be more honest government. And larger government—more involvement of politicians in regulating or subsidizing or licensing the economy—has the potential to be more dishonest government. It provides more opportunities for crooked politicians to shake down businessmen, and more opportunities for crooked businessmen to try to buy political influence.

Whether that is what happened in Joyce's case will be for a jury or perhaps eventually appellate judges to decide. Prosecutors, the press, and voters can try to weed out dishonest politicians. But the soundest political set-up is one that recognizes that there will always be some scoundrels, and that therefore tries to limit their power. Hoist a cup of coffee to that.

NEXT: Posting or Hosting Sex Ads Could Mean 25 Years in Federal Prison Under New Republican Proposal

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  1. No way are they going to convict a state senator for “honest services”.

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  2. “Less Regulation Means Less Opportunity for Government Corruption”

    Might want to tag the under ‘no shit, Sherlock’.

  3. Government corruption is no big deal, because government helps people. Kkkorporations, on the other hand, only hurt people and make themselves money through their own greed!!!

    1. Either this is sarcasm or you’re the stupidest SOB on the planet.

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    The Trump Administration’s zeal to pull back regulations is leading us to another era of robber barons

    Regulatory Capture may be vulnerable no matter what the size of government. Donald Trump just puts in lobbyists loyal to him. It is the most incompetent government I have ever witnessed in the United States. I don’t think small government would prevent this from happening. The United States put a corrupt man in office of president.

    1. Oops, I thought the guy above you won the stupidest SOB on the planet award. My mistake. Here’s your trophy.

      1. Nope, trophy goes to Mr. Suri: But an examination of history shows that government regulations are not always harmful to industry; they often help business. Indeed, government regulation is as central to the growth of the American economy as markets and dollars.

        Next time someone ties my shoes together I’ll be sure to thank them for making my life easier; see now I can move two feet at once instead of one at a time, which is, of course, far more efficient.

      2. spec24|12.12.17 @ 5:14PM|#

        Oops, I thought the guy above you won the stupidest SOB on the planet award. My mistake. Here’s your trophy.

        I hear your opinion but I haven’t heard your thinking of your position.

  6. Small government is invariably associated with large scale corruption – which is why the lobbying by the corrupt corporations and rgreedy wealthy to restrict legislation and oversight is so intense. This is so obvious it takes a high level of obtuseness or dishonesty not to see it.

  7. We could all dream.

    Meanwhile Comrade Moonbeam still would like to tax and regulate farts.

  8. Everybody is for limiting politicians in theory but not in fact. But, how do you limit a monopoly on violence? What is the voter choice? None. There is no other govt. to turn to when the govt. fails. And the govt. knows it. So it continues to disappoint and defraud. Politicians lie, lie, lie and when replaced, the replacement lies.

    Less regulation would require less authority. But the state is “the authority” and the only authority. By what criteria would the state be limited? And who would enforce that limit? For 200+ years the system of the state limiting itself has not worked. No surprise there.

    The smallest govt. is best. That would be everyone governing themselves. That would not require self-judging by everyone. Others would judge and use non-violence on the non-violent. The violent would not get a pass as is the current way. The measures taken would be decided by those directly affected.

  9. I’m an anarchist and I have been saying for years that if there aren’t any laws then by definition there can’t be any crime.

    1. But then we get an uptick, if not outright skyrocket, in violence. If we could define “crime” exclusively as first aggression (to injure, defraud, or steal) against a peaceable person, we wouldn’t have stupid “crimes” and a lot less government, but what’s in that for anyone with an ounce of immoral ambition?

  10. I think that all of the governmental officials would agree that regulation is the key to success of every system. Whenever there is a new change to the governmental issue is coming up, the officials have to stick to the regulations and adjust their decisions and actions due. Luckily, there are no regulations to the amount of money that you can get when it comes to the personal money service online. Thanks for the useful information provided and the chance to comment on the matter.

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