On Monday, the U.S. State Department posted a story about Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-lago. The State Department deleted the post but not before it was tweeted by various U.S. Embassies. The Guardian referred to the post as a blatant “plea for corruption.” This most recent event is one in a series of incidents that have raised serious questions about conflicts of interest and other ethical violations on the part of the Trump administration. Since taking office on January 20, 2017, the Trump administration has faced criticism for a wide variety of potentially corrupt practices involving US corporations, foreign states, transnational and foreign corporations, and nepotism.
Concerns about corruption are not limited to one party or administration, and reports of political corruption and crony capitalism have emerged outside of the administration. These include sitting congressman Chris Collins, who invested $2.2 million dollars in the IPO of Innate, an Australian pharmaceutical company. The congressman exploited a loophole in disclosure laws that do not require the reporting of foreign stock acquisitions by elected officials.
Public anger toward government corruption is driving voter sentiment not only in the United States but also globally. Protests have occurred in Europe (particularly eastern European countries like Romania), Russia, and almost every country in South America. South Korea impeached its sitting president on corruption charges following massive public demonstrations, and Brazil is currently in the middle of its first general strike since 1989.
Corruption can take many forms and directly affects the ability of citizens to influence their political systems. It widens economic disparities and increases political instability by undermining the rule of law.
If news of the daily shenanigans in Washington feels overwhelming, save time by checking in with a couple of sites that will cut down on the mental fatigue. What The F*ck Just Happened Today? is a well-curated, daily compilation of news about the “shock and awe” of national politics, and the website, corrupt.af, is tracking 292 reports of suspected corruption linked to the Trump administration. The sheer number of instances of corruption can seem overwhelming and intractable, but citizens do have the ability to advocate for change.
Donating to organizations provides financial support for anti-corruption efforts. The ethics watchdog group, Common Cause works to expose political corruption and address issues like political gerrymandering. The group filed an ethics complaint on behalf of the public about the Mar-a-lago post. Represent.us seeks to curb corruption at the city, state, and federal levels through the American Anti-Corruption Act. Transparency International also offers a number of ways for citizens to get involved with fighting corruption.
Volunteering time or specialized skills to anti-corruption efforts through the organizations listed in this article may be of interest to some readers. Emerging possibilities for citizen participation include efforts to crowdsource fact checking. More than 1000 volunteers participated in fact checking donor information for Donald Trump’s inauguration, which led to the uncovering of numerous errors. I spent about twenty minutes looking up information on the spreadsheet and really enjoyed participating. The non-profit organization Propublica recently shared access to financial disclosures of Whitehouse staffers with the public. These distributed efforts are in their infancy but show promise and are worth keeping an eye out for in the future.
American corruption and alt-right influence has gone global, with the Kushner family soliciting funds from real estate investors in Beijing in connection with a controversial visa program, and the American alt-right attempting to influence the 2017 French election. Global issues can be combatted on a local level. Help maximize grassroots efforts in your community and your voting power with this checklist.
Quick tips for active citizenship: Active Citizenship Cheat Sheet