Our opinion: A culture of corruption

One might be hard-pressed to remember a year in which one or more Pennsylvania state officials have not been defending themselves in court against corruption charges.

Now comes another batch of indictments related to pay-for-play on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Charged are former lawmakers, two of whom are already serving federal sentences for corruption, and a number of former turnpike executives.

A state grand jury has concluded that the little band of merry men were filling their days and filling their pockets by dealing in political favors to both parties and nudging fat turnpike contracts to firms “friendly” to certain politicians.

At the same time the state’s new Attorney General is hauling bureaucrats and politicians off to judicature, a judge is contemplating whether he should strip a Supreme Court justice of her job and her pension after she was found guilty of cheating Pennsylvania taxpayers by using her staff to work her campaign.

It’s starting to get difficult keeping them all straight.

What has happened to honesty in government? you might ask in frustration.

We’re not going to suggest that this latest collection of defendants is guilty; that’s the job of a jury. But, the indictments themselves are troubling and suggest something endemic in Harrisburg: a culture of corruption.

It is not hard to arrive at the assumption that criminal charges and convictions represent only a portion of dirty dealing in general. Likewise, one would be forgiven for believing that the assumption among a disappointing number of Pennsylvania policymakers, bureaucrats and lawmakers is that they are above the law.

It’s nothing new or unique to Pennsylvania, of course. There has been political corruption ever since there has been politics, from Tammany Hall to the Roman Senate. While we’re not prepared to accept the totality of Lord Acton’s conclusion that “Great men are almost always bad men,” we think he would accept the steady stream of disgraced Pennsylvania officials as evidence of his precept, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”