I spent two years serving in the United States Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova. It was hard. Moldova is a beautiful, agrarian country of about 4 million people. It is the smallest country to break off from the former Soviet Union. I served with my husband from 2003 to 2005, and family and friends from home often asked me what I missed most. Peanut butter? Going to the movies? My family? Yes, I missed those things. And the thing I missed the very most was any semblance of a government that worked. Moldova was deeply, deeply corrupt.
Every family knew that if they wanted their child to receive the highest marks at the end of the school year, it would cost $200. Even if you just wanted your child to pass on to the next grade, you would need to fork over at least $20. To work at the anti-corruption office, you needed to pay the secretary a $500 “application fee” to start the process, which went directly into her pocket. Every aspect of life was touched by the sometimes quiet, and often very public, exchange of a bribe.
The result of widespread corruption is a rot that eats away at the core of democratic society. I think about the weakening force of corrupt schools, government, health care systems and banking industries and how it eroded the trust of Moldovans. It made life difficult and dangerous. It was hard to plan for the future when you could never really know the cost associated with any given interaction.
I keep trying to reassure myself that we, here in the United States, have lived through more corrupt times than we are seeing now, though sometimes I am not so sure. Heading into the 1920 election, the Republican National Committee paid Warren Harding’s mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, what amounts to $540,000 in today’s dollars. But does that kind of buy off compare to today’s sell out?
We are living in the wake of a president who campaigned on the promise to drain the swamp, but the waves of swampy water continue to crash on the Department of the Interior, the EPA, the Department of Education and beyond. Disingenuous public comment periods, using positions of privilege to secure sweetheart deals for family members, and turning a blind eye to the predatory behavior of certain private colleges at the expense of defrauded students are now commonplace narratives in today’s news cycle.
Utahns need a member of Congress working on the side of Utahns, not corporate interests and not only for those who are able to write the biggest checks. As a candidate, I am not taking a single corporate dollar. If I have the honor to serve this district as your representative, I won’t take corporate PAC dollars while serving in Congress, either. I’m very different from my opponent in this way.
I will work to restore faith and trust in our government. That means transparency, reform and living by our convictions. I would publish call logs, noting how many calls I received for or against particular pieces of legislation. I would share visitor logs and let you know who I’m spending my time, your time, with in Washington. Here are three things I would be working for in Congress to address corruption and repair trust.
I support term limits.
We need more transparency and regulation on the revolving door between serving as a member of Congress and working as a lobbyist.
There need to be caps on campaign spending, both by candidates and outside groups who drop millions into our elections.
Should I have the honor of representing Utah’s 2nd District, I would sign on to co-sponsor the Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) to to establish a program for small individual donations to campaigns for public office where voters are in the driver’s seat.
There are 778,000 registered unaffiliated and Democrat voters in this state who are often left voiceless in our federal representation. The truth is that many more of us, no matter what our party, are voiceless in the entire process from campaign to policy unless we are able to cut big checks. I’m ready to stand up to corruption. On Nov. 6, let’s vote our values of honesty, integrity and moral leadership.
Shireen Ghorbani is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.