As news of "Too Big To Fail" Gov. Chris Christie's spiteful politically-motivated shutdown of the busiest bridge in America spread last week, MSNBC's Chris Hayes staged a live "Tournament of Corruption" to measure New Jersey's venality against crookedness in other states. Among New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana and Florida, Hayes sought to crown one state with the coveted and covetous title as the "Most Corrupt." Making the sad case for Florida as the most corrupt state was our Congressman With Guts, Alan Grayson (D-FL). Here is what he said:
Chris Hayes: We have Congressman Alan Grayson, Democrat from Florida, here making the case for that state. . . . Congressman Grayson, the State of Florida barely made it in[to the Tournament of Corruption.] It was duking it out with Rhode Island [for the final spot]. I had a little bit more experience personally with Rhode Island. What's your case for Florida?
Congressman Alan Grayson: Oh, Chris, you have got to be kidding me. We've got the numbers! Within the past thirty-five years, we've averaged one conviction for political corruption every week!
Chris: That's pretty good. [Or bad. – Ed.]
Alan: We led the nation [in corruption convictions in] five out of the past twelve years, Chris. We had a mayor in Miami Beach who was not convicted of one instance of bribery, but 41 instances of bribery. In Tampa, the county commission was so corrupt that there wasn't one [commissioner] who was convicted of bribery; there were three -- at the same time!
Chris: You also had the story of the Florida Senate President. I really like this one.
Alan: Yes, Mike Haridopolos, sure.
Chris: So tell me his story.
Alan: Well, his story is that he wrote a "book report" on the state legislature. It was never published, in any form, anywhere at all. The state paid him $152,000 [for that], which he never was punished for. A lot of the worst corruption in Florida goes completely unpunished.
Chris: Wait, he was unpunished for his $152,000 "book report"?
Alan: No, he wasn't punished for that. And look at what the Governor has done. He owns the largest chain of health clinics in the state, so what does he do? He shuts down all of the state's public health clinics, so there is no competition. He turns Medicaid over to privatization. And then, to top it all off, he requires state employees to get drug-tested. Tell me, where are they going to go, to get those drug tests? To his company.
Chris: I see why you were such an effective attorney, Congressman. You make a persuasive case, thanks. . . . So, Congressman Grayson, part of the reason that I was skeptical of Florida, although you made a good case, is that I have never [thought about Florida that way.] I think about Rhode Island, I think about Louisiana, I think about New Jersey, I think about Illinois as places that have a traditional boss politics, in which they have patronage machines. Those patronage machines tend to control both fundraising and jobs and party machine [candidates] who get slated. That is a kind of almost feudal system, in which lords control their turf. I don't think of Florida that way. Am I wrong not to think of Florida that way?
Alan: Well, on the state level, it's clearly a one-party system, and the Republican Party in Florida is hopelessly corrupt. They handed out [Republican Party] credit cards to all of their top officials. Corporate contributions to the Republican Party of Florida ended up paying for their personal expenses – including, for instance, a back waxing for Senator Rubio [R-FL]. I can give you countless other examples, and none of this ever gets punished. The reason you don't think of Florida [as often] is because so much of it never gets punished. Why is that? It's because the [State] Ethics Committee is appointed by the Governor, so they are not going to do anything to the Governor. The Ethics Committee isn't allowed to bring any charges; it's not even allowed to perform independent investigations. And, if a citizen brings a charge of corruption against a public official of the State of Florida and can't prove it by clear and convincing evidence, then the citizen, the informant, has to pay the attorney's fees of the official.
Chris: Well that's pretty good. Everyone, very quickly: [give me a] ten-second one-line pitch for your state.
Darryl Isherwood [for New Jersey]: We have Boardwalk Empire, an HBO series devoted to New Jersey corruption and "Nucky" Thompson.
Chris: You definitely win pop-culture references. Tracie Washington?
Tracie Washington [for Louisiana]: I can't top back waxing. I just can't.
Chris: (Laughter) Congressman Grayson? Anything other than back waxing?
Alan: Yeah, we have more corrupt public officials than alligators. And that's saying a lot.
Chris: I'm going to declare this tournament to close to call. . . . Thank you very much. I actually learned a tremendous amount in that segment. Thank you.
Congressman Alan Grayson – incorruptible. Authentic. Sincere. Straightforward. Above-board. Fair and square. On the level. Laying it on the line. Telling it like it is. What you see is what you get.
To see the video, or to make a contribution, click here.