Corruption: It's Not Just for U.S. Congress

Correction May 24, 2006

A reference to Britain as the world's oldest democracy is in error. The oldest democracy is that of the Isle of Man.

Lobbying scandals continue to rumble through Washington, D.C. Does life on Capitol Hill mirror the ethical behavior of public servants in foreign countries overseas? Unfortunately, it seems it does.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This past week, the Republican controlled House of Representatives responded to growing news of lobbying scandals by adopting new ethics rules. Lobbyists will now have to report on their activities four times a year instead of twice a year, and Representatives and their staff will be required to attend ethics training classes.

With all the news of domestic political scandal, NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr casts his eyes abroad to see how public servants in other countries are behaving.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Louisville businessman Vernon Jackson pleads guilty to bribing Representative William Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat. He wanted Congressional support for a cable television service that he wanted to set up in Nigeria.

The House of Representatives adopts a bill that would require more disclosure of lobbying activity but would not change the lobbying system very much.

Ho-hum, another day, another bout with corruption in the world's greatest democracy. But it may be a source of some consolation that America has no monopoly on governmental scandal. The European Commission, the legislative arm of the European Union, has proposed measures that would set up a voluntary code of conduct for the estimated 15,000 European lobbyists.

Britain, the oldest democracy of the all, is deeply enmeshed in a campaign finance scandal that has led to calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Charges have been raised that secret political payments were rewarded with appointed seats in the House of Lords.

In France, critics of President Jacques Chirac and Premier Dominique de Villepin, charged that a French Watergate is in the making, with the government using the security to smear his opponents. Sound familiar? Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a possible rival against Premier de Villepin in the next election, says the country has broken down and this is totally unacceptable. Reports from Paris describe the French as completely shaken by the political scandal. Maybe that's because the French aren't accustomed to Watergate-like scandals in which those who hold power abuse it.

As we contemplate corruption, it's nice to have some company across the ocean. This is Daniel Schorr.

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