News Release

Forget the McDonnells: We’re Ignoring Bigger Corruption


JANINE WEDEL, jwedel at
Today’s Washington Post features Wedel’s piece “Forget the McDonnells: We’re ignoring bigger, more pernicious corruption right under our noses.” She’s an anthropologist and professor at George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, is the author of the just-released Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom and Security.

The piece states: “Last week, former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell was sentenced to two years in federal prison for accepting lavish vacations, sweetheart loans, and an engraved Rolex from an executive of a dietary supplement maker. His wife will be sentenced next month.

“The pair seems like the poster children of corruption. But their bad behavior pales in comparison with the activities of those who practice what I call the ‘new corruption.’ These players — some of them big names, some of them virtual unknowns — violate our health, pocketbooks, our trust. Their actions compromise our health, pocketbooks, or security and can lead to deep and lasting inequalities.

“And their behavior is typically legal, making it next to impossible to hold them to account.

“This new corruption is practiced by elite power brokers who assume a tangle of roles in government, business, nonprofits, and media organizations. These developments have offered up many new opportunities for private players to assume public roles, with elite power brokers taking full advantage.

“They are enmeshed in the systemic unaccountability that has come to flourish over the past several decades amid privatization, deregulation, the end of the Cold War, and the digital age. These developments have offered up many new opportunities for private players to assume public roles, with elite power brokers taking full advantage. Of course, while not everyone with a jumble of roles is ethically challenged or corrupt, in today’s environment, we, the public, have an information problem. How can we know whom to trust when ‘experts’ pronounce on crucial policy issues and present themselves as impartial, while concealing that they have a dog in the fight?

“Compare the McDonnells’ shenanigans with the activities of so-called Key Opinion Leaders. These and other prominent physicians or medical researchers are paid or given perks by pharmaceutical and medical device companies to promote their products to fellow professionals (at the high end one reportedly took in upward of $7 million over five months).

“ProPublica investigators dug into the Open Payments Web site, launched in September 2014, as mandated by the 2010 Physician Payment Sunshine Act. They found that between August and December 2013, pharmaceutical and medical device companies spent $3.5 billion on 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals. Of that $3.5 billion, $202.6 million was spent on promotional speaking engagements, $158.2 million for consulting fees, and $25.5 million for honoraria. …

“Or consider the activities of 19 top academic economists tracked by a University of Massachusetts Amherst study. These economists promoted specific financial reform proposals in the media and advised governmental bodies such as congressional committees in the run-up to and just after the 2008 financial crisis — without disclosing their links to private financial institutions. …

“Also concerning are the players I call ‘shadow lobbyists.’ Shadow lobbyists are often former top government officials who advocate for wealthy clients. Some join top legal-lobby shops. But to skirt lobbyist registration rules, they spread their client list far and wide, so that they can say they don’t spend most of their time on just one client. Or they give their contacts and know-how to underlings who are registered. Other shadow lobbyists set up their own consulting groups.”