News Section: Opinion
TBT Editorial: Is a Win at All Costs Really a Win?
Lance Armstrong won many cycling races, but now those wins have been stripped away. Armstrong fought off the accusations for years but now admits the wins violated the rules of the sport which made him an icon. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which oversees anti-doping programs for U.S. Olympic, Paralympic, Pan-American and ParaPan American sport, has gone so far as to strip away those wins, while sponsors withdrew their support for this famous, larger than life cycling icon. We can only wish our political system would have a similar system of stripping those who win at any cost, including misrepresentations, violating laws and political corruption.
Few would argue that our political system is broken. As a country, we have tolerated the win at any cost mentality and all it has wrought. Some say, that is just the way politics work. Imagine our leaders feeling good about winning by misrepresenting their record or harming their opponents' reputation through character assassination. Maybe we are too busy with our lives to care, but isn't it time we hold our politicians accountable to at least the same standard as we hold our athletes? But then again, we probably pay more attention to sports than our politicians, which might be understandable given the quality of service many have displayed. Still, if we fail to correct our political system, our society will fail. History has proven this time and again.
We have reached a point where citizens need to demand reform, and yes even honesty from our political system. Our political leaders have created a web of ways to cower from their accountability and get away with it. It is a bigger issue than Super Pacs or corporations being treated as a person. The recent felony charges filed on Robert Waechter, in which he is accused of making fraudulent political donations on someone else's behalf, seemingly to be better able to run a negative campaign against them two years from now, would seem a calculated, premeditated attack on our political system. But the guilt does not stop at Waechter. It extends to those who fund and benefit from such spurious acts – the developers and their politicians.
During the campaign of 2012, with money from Carlos Beruff (a developer from Miami who heads Medallion homes), Waechter ran an attack campaign against former county commissioner Joe McClash, using a loophole that allows unlimited money from a developer. McClash was the target of over a dozen attack mailers and phone calls intended to misrepresent his positions. The truth was clearly of no matter to Waechter. The goal was a win -- at all costs. The organization was called Take Back Our Government and it existed solely for that purpose. Its manifestation was political corruption in perhaps its purest form. But there is no commission like we see with Lance Armstrong to investigate and punish the people involved.
Betsy Benac, McClash's opponent who worked for local developers prior to seeking the seat, benefited from Waechter's assault and narrowly won the election. Afterward, McClash said she told him, that's just the way politics work. Well maybe for her, but not for McClash and many other candidates who have never ran such campaigns to get elected, or stay in public office. The problem is that because of the free reign that such attack groups have enjoyed, it's becoming next to impossible for such candidates to win or remain in elected positions.
McClash filed charges against Take Back Our Government with the Manatee Sheriff's Office for several violations by Waechter and the Beruff-backed group. The State Attorney's office has the evidence, which shows the same pattern of political corruption. Waechter and TBOG deployed the fraudulently-identified attack robo-calls, which claimed to be coming from Wounded Warriors, and also violated other Florida election laws. Still, there have been no charges filed to date in Manatee County.
People like Waechter can violate these laws because, all too often, they know there will be no enforcement. They've seemingly come to believe, as Benac said, that's just politics. This is why real campaign reform needs to take place. Stopping political corruption will take a real change in the way we conduct our elections. We need an oversight committee like the USADA that can investigate and take action against political corruption. If the USADA was not created and allowed to perform a critical role, Lance Armstrong and his fellow PED-enhanced “champions” would still reign, while those who worked hard and played by the rules continued to languish behind those who would win at any and all costs.
Our political system is the soul of our democracy and must be protected not only by laws, but a system that promotes and ensures enforcement, which too often requires undue burden on those who have been victimized, while giving quarter to those who skirt the law. But the victim in these cases is not just the candidate. As members of society, we are all ultimately forced to share the costs when citizen representation is thwarted by special interest concerns. Allowing a politically corrupt process to dominate our democracy is not acceptable. Perhaps it is time for stripped victories and lifetime bans to cover more than just sports.