The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines corruption as: 1) impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, 2) inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery), 3) decay or decomposition, or 4) a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct. As Merriam-Webster’s coverage of this word shows, there are a number of subtle layers to our understanding of what makes somebody, or some thing, corrupt.
How, then, should we interpret Senator Mike Enzi’s activities this week? During a time when Senator Enzi is supposed to be communicating with voters back in Wyoming, the state that he represents, he is instead attending a four-day meeting with lobbyists at a luxury resort in Key West, Florida, where he will accept money on behalf of his avowedly pro-corporate political action committee, and in exchange provide the lobbyists who pay with special access to him.
On the one hand, we can see that Senator Enzi has established a network of corporate agents who are willing to provide him with money in exchange for the opportunity to influence Enzi’s legislative work as a federal government official.
On the other hand, we can see that what Senator Enzi is doing appears not to violate any laws.
What’s a fair way, then, to describe Senator Mike Enzi and his Caribbean vacation? Should we refer to them as an example of political corruption, or is that too strong? Should we just call the money-for-influence exchange “ethically questionable”? Should we merely note the facts and not offer any judgment? Should we ignore the whole thing as just one example of business-as-usual?