Is Duke a Symptom?

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This Duke Cunningham story, I’m guessing, will mostly focus on the corruption angle. Here you have a congressman on the Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee taking bribes in exchange for helping a defense contractor win contracts. What a sleazeball, etc. For shame, etc. In an ideal world, though, the attention would focus on the much larger problem of the defense appropriations process in general, which makes this sort of thing inevitable.

Defense contractors literally live or die on the contracts that Congress decides to hand out. Most of them have grown up under the mini-command economy that is the annual defense appropriations bill, and wouldn’t know how to survive in the free market. Not surprisingly, contractors tend to put a lot of effort into lobbying and influencing legislators. Between 1997 and 2004, the top 20 defense contractors made $46 million in campaign contributions, and spent $390 million on lobbyists—and were rewarded for their efforts with $560 billion in contracts. Then there’s a permanent revolving door between government and the defense industry, which is laid out in gory detail by the Project on Government Oversight. A lot of money gets sloshed around. Under the circumstances, what happened with Cunningham was bad and illegal, but not completely out of step with the larger trend here.

Even more interesting than Cunningham, perhaps, is MZM Inc., the company that bribed the Duke. The Los Angeles Times reports that the company has received “$163 million in federal contracts, mostly for classified defense projects involving the gathering and analysis of intelligence.” Just to be clear, a firm that bought a house for a corrupt Congressman is doing “classified” intelligence work. Okay, then.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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