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Corruption scandals can make the public cynical – or they can cause change, lawyer says

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Detroit and its elected officials are in the midst of a public corruption scandal. Contracts, bribes and campaign finance violations have become the subject of a multi-year federal investigation. And the municipal elections are next week.

Beth Rotman is program director for Common Cause, a policy advocacy group. She helped create the Citizens’ Election Program in Connecticut and focuses on money in politics and ethics.

She says corruption scandals can make the public cynical – or they can initiate change. Following recent events in Detroit, including the FBI house searches of council members and the resignations of Gabe Leland and Andre Spivey, she says incidents such as these highlight how these relationships are formed as candidates campaign and continue when they are in power.

In politics, it costs money to get your message across and special interests are very happy to pay… because they understand that relationships are built on an election campaign. —Beth Rotman, common cause

Often times, these scandals lead to greater public awareness of how these links can actually start on the campaign trail and also in the relationships that form due to the links between wealth and political results. And also contractual relationships in state and local governments, ”she said.

WDET‘s Eli Newman spoke to Rotman about how scandals can help change. Read the excerpts, edited for clarity, below:


Listen: Beth Rotman explains how corruption scandals start during the election campaign.


Eli Newman, WDET News: Why is it during the election campaign that the genesis of some of these corruption scandals begins?

Beth Rotman, Common Cause: In politics it costs money to get your message across and special interests are very happy to pay… because they understand that relationships are built on an election campaign. People in the countryside will respond more quickly to phone calls from people helping them get on the job. If we break these relationships and allow ordinary Americans to be those donors through programs known as Citizen-Funded Elections or Small Donor Democracy, we can in fact … allow ordinary Americans to be part of it. process and have their issues on which their leaders are elected.

City of Detroit / Flickr

Gabe Leland and Andre Spivey resigned from Detroit City Council this year.

How would you disrupt this kind of matching relationship that donors sometimes have with politicians?

Essentially, a reform package brings together small dollar contributions from ordinary residents that someone seeks to represent when elected, and that shows that someone is a serious candidate. They can get contributions of $ 5, contributions of $ 10, and then there is a public contribution that comes from the government. And these public funds amplify the voice of this ordinary American, this ordinary resident, so what’s really precious is that little dollar contribution. This eliminates the need for the money-hunting kind of thing as the matches can be pretty big.

What are some other ways that this kind of embezzlement, corruption and campaign finance can affect average people beyond the political realm? How does the average Joe feel when this happens, even if he is not necessarily aware of it?

Politics and money are so entangled that things that would really make a huge difference in the daily lives of residents can never be revealed. Connecticut became the first state in the country to embrace large-scale health care across the state for service workers, and that only happened after these sweeping reforms changed the landscape. It’s really a testament to what can happen when people engage in reforms and change the debate, and none of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for, I believe, the huge scandal. people who then rose up and called for reforms. But often these scandals lead to greater public awareness of how these links can actually start on the election campaign and also in the relationships that have formed due to the links between wealth and political results, as well. as contractual relationships within state and local governments. We certainly see that in the MJ cases and we’ve seen it in New York, Connecticut, and other jurisdictions across the country.

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