Criminal Officials: Money is Not the Only Motive

Criminal Officials: Money is Not the Only Motive

Disgraced former City Councilman Dan Halloran was convicted last summer of bribery and fraud.

Disgraced former City Councilman Dan Halloran was convicted last summer of bribery and fraud.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Sir John Dalberg-Acton’s astute observation has endured for more than 100 years. Last week, The Forum profiled a rogue’s gallery of elected officials from Queens who put faces to Dalberg-Acton’s succinct statement, illustrating impact of that corruption.

The paper’s previous story told you the Who. But what about the Why?

According to psychologist Dr. Ronald Riggio, leadership is all about power and influence. Leaders use their power to get things done. A simple distinction is between two forms of power. Socialized power is power used to benefit others. We hope that our elected officials have this sort of power in mind and are primarily concerned with the best interests of their constituents, Riggio said in his piece in Psychology Today called “How Power Corrupts Leaders.”

“Leaders can delude themselves that they are working for the greater good,” Riggio said, “but engage in behavior that is morally wrong. A sense of power can cause a leader to engage in what ethicist, Terry Price, calls ‘exception making’—believing that the rules that govern what is right and what is wrong does not apply to the powerful leader ‘for other people, this would be wrong, but because I have the best interests of my followers at heart, it’s ok for me to…’ During Watergate, the argument was made that President Nixon could not have acted illegally because ‘the President is above the law.’”

Riggio said corruption arises when personalized power dominates socialized power, and the leader gains—often at the followers’ (voters, constituents, etc.) expense.

Additionally, leaders can also become “intoxicated” by power—engaging in wrong behavior simply because they can and they can get away with it, Riggio observed.

What of the inherent risk involved in the various power grabs? The myriad bad apples this newspaper exposed last week should have been a natural deterrent to the elected officials that followed. But that, as we know, is not the case.

Lauren Kirchner wrote for Pacific Standard, “Punishing bribery after the fact is not a good way to stop it from happening in the future, and it will only stop when the risk outweighs the potential reward.”

By Michael V. Cusenza


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>