Jan. 12, 2006, 8:39PM
If we can beat mob, we can fight DeLay-style politics
Experience in Las Vegas similar to D.C. corruption
By SEN. HARRY REID
In 1977, I was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It
was a difficult time for the gaming industry and Las Vegas, which
were being overrun by organized crime. To that point in my life, I
had served in the Nevada Assembly and even as lieutenant governor,
but nothing prepared me for my fight with the mob.
Over the next few years, there would be threats on my life, bribes,
FBI stings and even a car bomb placed in my family's station wagon.
It was a terrifying experience, but at the end of the day, we cleaned
up Las Vegas and ushered in a new era of responsibility.
My term on the gaming commission came to an end in 1981, and when it
did, I thought I had seen such corruption for the last time.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. It is not quite the mafia
of Las Vegas in the 1970s, but what is happening today in Washington
is every bit as corrupt and the consequences for our country have
Our nation's capital has been overrun by organized crime - Tom DeLay-style.
The gangsters are the lobbyists, cronies and lawmakers who have
banded together and abused their power to serve their own
self-interest. The casinos are the Capitol, which has had its doors
thrown open for special interests to waltz in and help themselves,
and the victims, of course, are the American people.
There is a price to pay for the culture of corruption, and we can see
it in the state of our union.
Consider the state of our economy. On one side is Big Oil, which
reaped $100 billion in profits in 2005. On the other side are
middle-class families. Their wages are declining at the same time
they are paying more for gas, heat, education and other needs.
Take the state of health care. On one side are the HMOs that
benefited greatly from a $10 billion slush fund in the Medicare bill.
On the other side are seniors who face gaps in their coverage and the
high cost of prescription drugs.
And then there is our national debt. On one side are the special
interests and the multimillionaires who have received tremendous tax
breaks over the last five years. On the other side are our children
and grandchildren who will pay for these tax cuts when they inherit
billions in debt.
In our country today, we are seeing what happens when lawmakers and
lobbyists conspire to put the needs of special interests before the
needs of the American people. We have a country that grows more
dependent on foreign oil each day. We have cronyism like that exposed
by Hurricane Katrina, and we have a national security policy that
does a good job of protecting Halliburton's bottom-line but not a
good enough job protecting the American people.
I believe that together, America can do better. We can have a
government that puts the American people - not special interests -
first, and it all starts with cleaning up Washington.
Honest leadership should not be a partisan goal. It is the key to a
stronger union. When leaders put America's interests ahead of their
own self-interest, there is no limit to how far America can go. We
can make progress is so many areas, including energy independence,
affordable health care, retirement security and tax-relief for the
In 2006, it is time to make sure lawmakers always put progress before
politics. This will require some painful but necessary steps designed
to root out corruption and cronyism in our government and to put an
end to the quid-pro-quo politics that gave rise to Jack Abramoff.
Our first order of business must be reinvigorating the enforcement of
government ethics rules so that people know there are consequences
for breaking the law. Second, we must fix the revolving door that
shuffles officials and staff between government and K Street.
Third, we must reform the gift and travel rules that fostered
pay-to-play politics like we've seen in the Abramoff affair and the K
Finally, we must shine a bright light on the relationship between
lobbyists and lawmakers. We need disclosure rules that will tell
constituents who their lawmakers are meeting with, what lobbyists are
asking for and what gifts and perks they are giving.
I support these steps not because they are good politics in an
election year but because they are the right steps to take in
response to the corruption we have seen in Washington. I know there
are some people who think cleaning up Washington is a lost cause and
that corruption and government will always go hand in hand. To these
individuals, I say you are wrong.
If we could kick the mob out of Las Vegas in the 1970s, we can change
the culture of Washington and give America a government as good and
honest as the people it serves.
Reid, D-Nev., is the Senate minority leader.