The late Sen. Ted Sevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican at that time in the U.S. Senate, was indicted in 2008 on allegations that he failed to report $250,000 in improvements that were done to his home. He has denied the charges.
Among the items he allegedly got for free and didn’t report, according a story in the L.A. Times, were: “new and used furniture, a new stationary tool storage cabinet with new tools, and a new professional Viking gas grill.” (Emphasis added by me.)
It was that Viking grill that got me thinking about the temptation that politicians face. It might be easy to deflect bribes and money and watches (who wears a watch anymore?) and trips to Bermuda. But how in the world can you turn down a professional Viking gas grill? That’s tough!
And so many times, when corruption is alleged, it has to do with home improvements. Have you noticed that?
Consider these two stories:
From New Brunswick, N.J.: ‘A former New Brunswick housing inspector avoided prison Thursday after pleading guilty to stealing federal grant money to remodel the kitchen and bathroom in his city home and make other repairs.”
From Washington D.C.: A woman pleaded guilty in a tax fraud scheme and, according to a statement from the prosecutors, used $150,000 “to make a personal loan to a family member and remodel her home.”
As a journalist, I deal with my own minor temptations. Most of the publications I write for, including the L.A. Times, have a strict rule that writers cannot accept anything worth more than $25. That’s basically a pretty good lunch. It’s a great rule. Otherwise, how would we know if we’re writing about something because it’s newsworthy or because we expect a freebie? The way I’ve run my career the past two decades, there’s no doubt about my motives. I can assure you, I do not have a professional Viking gas grill.
I would never risk my career and integrity by taking home-improvement freebies. But as a devotee of all things home-related, I can certainly understand the temptation.