I tell the story of three political machines in my THE HAPPIEST CORRUPTION: Sleaze, Lies, & Suicide in a California Beach Town. They are focused in different American communities, even in different centuries, but the stories echo through decades and across the miles, always the same message of complacent citizens, crafty criminals, and crusaders for good governance. Here’s what fuels corruption in local government:

    • Complicit press and media whose existence depends on adver­tising from the machine and machine-controlled businesses.
    • Government employees whose employment depends on cooperation with machine politicians.
    • A business community controlled by fear, dependent on the machine’s good will if their reputations and businesses are to survive.
    • Candidates for office who cannot be elected without the back­ing of the machine or whose aspirations have been fulfilled by the machine, thus generating an obligation to serve machine interests.
    • A frightened, misinformed, or non-participatory general populace.
    • Voters whose commitment to partisanship is stronger than their commitment to public integrity.
    • Political bosses driven to acquire increasingly more of what they need to feed an addiction, whether sex, money, substance abuse, or gambling.
    • Rationalizing machine behavior so we can then overlook it.
    • Would-be whistle blowers who are more concerned about the appearance of association with wrongdoers than they are about ethics.


Association with the machine is like a venereal disease—no one wants anyone to know they’ve got it or how they got it.

In my next blog I will talk about what has to be present to fix it.