Magazine article Newsweek International

'Everyone Makes Mistakes'

Magazine article Newsweek International

'Everyone Makes Mistakes'

Article excerpt

Byline: Lawrence Goodman

I have the dubious distinction of living in the most corrupt state in America. I am talking about Rhode Island, which despite its noble past as one of the original 13 Colonies is pretty much a banana republic. "The political condition of Rhode Island is notorious, acknowledged and shameful," the great muckraker Lincoln Steffens once wrote. "It is a state for sale, and cheap."

That was in the early 1900s. But at long last, my home state is trying to go clean. A bill before the legislature would ban campaign contributions. Elections would be publicly financed so candidates wouldn't have to go around hitting up corporations or fat-cat donors. Rid our elections of the influence of money? Reduce the temptation for politicians to trade cash for favors? My neighbor in Providence, the capital, calls the Clean Election Act "socialist" and "un-American." He's typical.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that this reform effort was the idea of an out-of-stater. Her name is Te-Ping Chen, a college student at Brown University who hails from liberal Oakland, California. Her bill, she says, will remove the considerable financial obstacles to running for election and inspire ordinary Joes--"plumbers, barbers and even schoolteachers!"--to enter the political arena. One-party monopoly might give way to multiparty plurality, with greens, libertarians and socialists all fronting candidates.

I asked Chen whether she had ever heard of Edward D. DiPrete. She hadn't. He was Rhode Island's governor back in the 1980s who was convicted for accepting bribes, extorting money and using the money for his campaigns.

Had she heard of the late Joseph A. Bevilacqua? Again, no. He was the state's top judge until 1986. It was alleged beginning in the late '70s that he liked to pal around with people tied to organized crime. …

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