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Already Bribe County, Supreme Court Ruling Opens Pandora's Wallet in Broward

The shirt you'll need to stay on the City Commission dais. ​It's a good week to be corrupt. And I'm not talking about the corrupt health care industry, which managed to blast a gaping hole in an already listing ship trying to bring reform to port. Rather, the big score for the bad guys came by Supreme Court ruling: Lobbyists now have the constitutional right to, in essence, bribe lawmakers.

Admittedly, they've been doing it with soft money and a variety of other loopholes in campaign finance law. But at least those obstacles slowed them down. Now the floodgates are open.

Considering that Broward County officials are already mired in a federal bribery case, it's hard to imagine what new evils the ruling might unleash in local government.

Let's consider an example: Developers have deep pockets. They have lots at stake when it comes to city government, where commissioners are entrusted with the role of defending the public's interest against some hideous condominium or traffic-swamping plaza. But based on the Supreme Court's ruling, a lobbyist for that developer can threaten commissioners by saying: "If you don't vote for my client, his company will spend a fortune on whoever challenges you for reelection."

In city elections, where the candidates struggle to raise money to fund campaigns, that's akin to a holding a gun to a candidate's head. And who can blame the city official for caving? If he doesn't support the developer, he'll get his clock cleaned in the election -- and his opponent will vote for the developer anyway. Take the bribe. Live to fight another day.

The ruling also gives a huge surge of cash -- and momentum -- to shadowy groups that engage in character assassination while concealing their true motives. As if we didn't already have enough of that in South Florida.

Congress will act quickly to ensure that there's at least disclosure of who's giving wads of cash to whom. But that's going to create reams of public documents at a time when there are fewer journalists available to investigate and inform the public.

What a disaster. For more on this, check out today's New York Times editorial.

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Thomas Francis

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