How about corruption reform first?

Before we implement any sweeping changes of the American political system, how about cleaning up corruption first?

In November of 2007, while campaigning for president, John Edwards, the former North Carolina Senator, said: "Washington is awash with corrupt money, with lobbyists who pass it out and with politicians who ask for it," adding, "This election is the great moral test of our generation." About a year later he was being investigated for use of PAC money for personal use, his once-prominent political career was buried and the turmoil of his marriage was playing out in public.

Now, the wealthy trial lawyer, who made his fortune by suing physicians and health care insurance companies, is facing a federal inquiry. Edwards' political action committee is alleged to have paid more than $100,000 for video production to the firm of the woman with whom Edwards had an affair and a child out of wedlock. When word of the affair became public, Edwards convinced an aide to take the rap for him and say that he was the father of the child. This is the guy who built a lucrative career by ostensibly; "fighting for the little guy," while simultaneously  enriching his personal bank account and helping to bankrupt the health care industry. However, the Edwards odyssey is merely a tiny ripple in a vast ocean of corruption that has been bilking the American people for generations. 

Hardly a week goes by that we don't read about politicians getting their grubby hands into another pile of pilfered pelf. Last month, the mayors of two New Jersey cities and a state legislator were arrested in connection with a major corruption and international money-laundering conspiracy probe. Some of the suspects were also allegedly involved in an illegal human organ-selling ring. Among the approximately 30 people arrested were Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, who had been in office only 23 days (talk about your fast learners), Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and an assortment of other light-fingered lawmakers. In recent years, New Jersey has seen more than 130 corruption-related convictions of public officials.

Then there's former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson, who, earlier this month was found guilty by a federal jury of 11 corruption charges including bribery and other crimes. The verdict comes four years after the August, 2005 raids of Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which the FBI found $90,000 in bribe money hidden in the freezer of his D.C. home. 

But Jefferson was a piker compared to California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who resigned in disgrace in 2005 after pleading guilty to bribery of at least $2.4 million, from 3 defense contractors, in exchange for his influence in military contracts. The ethically-challenged lawmaker had used the bribes to make extravagant purchases such as a yacht, a Roll Royce, a suburban-D.C. condominium and a mansion. While he was heading for 8 years in federal prison, Cunningham earned the dubious distinction of being the subject of a book, subtitled, "The most corrupt congressman ever caught."

Democrat Rod Blagojevich, the 40th governor of Illinois, took office in 2003, succeeding George Ryan, a Republican. That same year, Ryan was indicted on 22 counts including racketeering, bribery, money laundering, extortion, and tax fraud. He is scheduled to be released from prison in 2013. Meantime, Blagojevich is awaiting his trial, set for June 2010, on federal racketeering charges of scheming to sell or trade President Obama's U.S. Senate seat and pressuring potential campaign contributors to donate money to the "Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund." If he goes to prison, as expected, one state will have 2 former governors in the hoosegow.

And who can forget the notorious Edwin Edwards, the four-term Louisiana governor who was indicted by the feds in 1998 and found guilty of racketeering, money-laund... (Well, you know the drill). His release date is scheduled for July 2011. (When Attorney General Eric Holder said recently that the prisons are overcrowded, I didn't realize it was because so many former elected officials had taken up occupancy.)

The list goes on and on, including many who were caught with their hands in the till, but will probably never do time. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel has spent close to a million dollars on attorneys as he tries to fend off charges that he failed to pay taxes on 4 rent stabilized luxury apartments in Harlem and a villa in the Dominican Republic. The Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is a fierce proponent of raising taxes on working people, but, as is often the case with these mountebanks, is less ardent about paying his own taxes. With all these greedy, self-absorbed reprobates making decisions about our future, is it any wonder that people are terrified of handing health care reform to them?

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.