There's a reason why a dictatorship currently rules Venezuela, or why a single party ruled Mexico for seven uninterrupted decades. There's a reason why former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is now in federal prison. That reason goes to the heart of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump and the protection of American democracy.
Much attention swirls around the fact that Trump used a July 25 phone call to pressure Ukraine's president into digging up dirt against Trump's most formidable Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Soliciting help from foreign governments to advance a political campaign is a clear violation of U.S. law.
But at least as important is the strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of government offices, personnel or resources for personal enrichment or political advancement. Without an inviolable wall between the two, democracy quickly deteriorates into kleptocracy and dictatorship.
Mexico is still untangling itself from the aftermath of single-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party from 1921 to 2000. The party seized control of the nation's oil wealth, telecommunications, labor unions, news media and even election systems to ensure its unbroken grip on power. Incumbent presidents chose their successors from within the party's ranks.
Closer to home is the example of Stenger, who so thoroughly intermingled the functions of his elective office with his constant quest for high-dollar campaign contributions, the line effectively ceased to exist between the two.
Members of Congress are so attuned to the strict limits imposed by federal election law that they must maintain separate staffs for their elective offices and their campaigns. As a 2016 segment on CBS News' "60 Minutes" reported, the Republican and Democratic parties maintain offices across the street from the Capitol. The offices resemble a telemarketing phone bank, where members sit inside booths on a daily basis in a frantic effort to raise cash. New GOP House members were pressed to earn $2 million a month, or $18,000 a day in contributions.
The system obliterates the misconception by voters that their elected representatives spend their time in Washington doing the people's business. But it is entirely above-board and legal — as it should be — and strictly upholds the wall separating campaign activities from official business.
Trump, like Stenger, has blurred the line. He uses his hotels and resorts for personal enrichment while simultaneously hosting foreign leaders. The White House serves as a promotional platform for his children to market their business activities. And, as the July 25 phone call clearly demonstrated, Trump uses government resources and personnel, including senior U.S. envoys, to dig up dirt he can use in his 2020 reelection bid.
The abuse can only get worse if Congress fails to stop Trump. Which is why Republicans must join Democrats in enforcing the law without political favor.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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