Two dubious ethical achievements

There is no official record book when it comes to conflicts of interest and related afflictions.  But it is still possible to take note of the unprecedented amounts of a given type of unethical conduct, and this was indeed done in two stories during the past week about public-sectors COIs (each of which is interesting in a different way).

First, a lengthy New York Times piece two days ago offered a “comprehensive examination” of the dealings of David Sampson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and also a partner in the Wolff & Sampson law firm, with NJ Governor Chris Christie and his administration, both inside the Port Authority and out,  and detailed  “the extent to which their ambitions and successes became intertwined.” The story concludes: “Mr. Samson and his law firm benefited financially. Mr. Christie benefited politically. And each enhanced the other’s stature as their relationship deepened in ways that were not apparent at the time.”

It would be impractical to try to summarize here the great many components of what the Times charitably calls a “symbiosis” between these two powerful men, but the details may be less important than is this bit of information: “Jameson W. Doig, a scholar who has long studied the Port Authority, said that while the Port Authority had not been immune to allegations of political influence, he had not seen anything in his research going back to the 1920s that compared to how Mr. Samson and Mr. Christie have used the bistate agency’s vast resources to advance the governor’s interests, at times benefiting Mr. Samson’s clients in the process.”  Given NJ’s challenged ethical history – I’m a resident, and have long felt that our license plate should read, “The state of corruption” – this is quite a distinction.

Second, and redirecting our gaze from Trenton to Washington DC and from the questionable practices of a Republican to those of a Democrat, John McCain had an  opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago called  “Abysmal Ambassadorial Nominations The tradition of giving diplomatic posts to campaign contributors has now officially gotten out of control.” As he writes, “There is only one reason why the ambassadorial nominees for Norway, Hungary and Argentina were selected for this high honor and huge responsibility. It is not because they are distinguished members of our Foreign Service. They are not. It is not because they have years of experience and expertise on U.S. foreign policy. They do not. No, the sole criteria that has gotten these individuals nominated is their wealth and their willingness to give large portions of it to President Obama and the Democratic Party.” McCain further writes: “It is not just the poor quality of some of the president’s political nominees that is so troubling; it is also the quantity of them. Twenty-four were big donors who bundled hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for the president and the Democrats. The old accepted practice has been to keep such nominees to 30% of the nation’s total foreign postings. However, just a year in, so far more than half of President Obama’s second-term ambassadorial nominees are political appointees and wealthy donors.”

I find what McCain describes as every bit as appalling as what is emerging about the Christie-Sampson connection. But the fact that the Senator’s principal objection to this trafficking in government offices apparently is to the quantity, not the practice itself, reminded me of this timeless  exchange:

George Bernard Shaw: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?

Actress: My goodness. Well, I’d certainly think about it.

Shaw: Would you sleep with me for a pound?

Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!

Shaw: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.



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