Corruption is a universal element of human nature. From earliest times, our chronicles have always included stories of corruption. Jesus said, “Watch out for the Scribes. They devour widow’s houses…” The Scribes were the government officials of that time processing marriages, divorces, loans, and estates.
Of course, corruption isn’t part of everyone’s nature and the vast majority of our public officials are honest. However, society must guard against self-dealing representatives who seek to “feather their own nests”. Public corruption erodes trust in our government institutions.
Delaware lawmakers have exempted themselves from oversight of the Public Integrity Commission (PIC). Deborah Moreau, the PIC attorney, has described our General Assembly as having “something of an honor system” when it comes to ethics enforcement.
In addition, Delaware’s legislative ethics committees have been largely inactive. There is no record of a Senate inquiry since 1986. The House Ethics Committee took action against John Atkins in 2007 and again in 2012, but there have been no inquiries since Peter Schwartzkopf became Speaker.
FightDECorruption.com is a non-partisan organization of Delaware citizens who agree on the need to build honesty and trust in government. As a citizen watchdog, we are pursuing multiple strategies.
FightDECorruption.com will continue to advocate for legislative ethics reform. We have also begun filing formal “Calls for Inquiry” with the Delaware Department of Justice. Five of the six complaints filed are for “Abuse of Office” and one is for “profiteering” or insider trading.
Both of these offenses are class A misdemeanors. A class A misdemeanor is the most serious type of misdemeanor in Delaware, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,300. The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution.
“Abuse of Office” occurs when a legislator “performs official functions in a way intended to benefit the public servant’s own property or financial interests…”. This is a classic form of public corruption commonly referred to as self-dealing.
We are working to build public awareness of the need for ethics reform in Delaware. The Op Ed linked above was published in both the News Journal and the Delaware State News. Delaware Call published both an article and a podcast and FightDECorruption.com has had more than 3,000 visits.
We plan to continue publishing Op Eds, blog posts, and videos expanding distribution through social media. As the 2022 elections approach, the pace of this campaign will increase. At some point the mainstream media will hopefully engage.
Public corruption is a potent electoral issue. Many legislators have either declined to run or have lost elections as the result of ethical violations. A sustained campaign bridging the entire election cycle and gaining momentum going into 2022 could have an impact. We may launch independent campaigns in 2022 focusing on violations by profiled legislators.
So despite the challenges of legislating ethics reform, there remain opportunities for a citizen watchdog to publicize violations of Delaware law and demand accountability from public officials. Delaware voters deserve representatives who serve their constituents and don’t feather their own nests.