Originally published in The Atlantic.
The conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen on several corruption charges reveals yet again that Americans are more troubled by elected officials who pocket personal gifts than by those who accept large campaign contributions, sometimes from the same special interests. If it were otherwise, a considerable number of members of Congress would be on the docket right next to the governor—and on the way to jail.
The public can readily visualize an elected official doing special favors for someone who pays for designer clothing and accessories, a Rolex watch, and even his daughter’s wedding. They get even more enraged if someone gets a free trip of Vegas or a week at a choice golf course. (Such junkets are now labeled “educational" trips, because while Congress piously tightened ethics rules on junkets in 2007, some lobbyists deftly redefined themselves to evade the restrictions).
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