“I’m not quite sure — what’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo asked last month about the latest attempt to mitigate the myriad financial shenanigans in his City Hall.
The very fact that he felt moved to ask the rhetorical question about an attempt to reform one of the many borderline-corrupt donation scams in city government shows just how shameless political leadership in Los Angeles has become.
The proposal that Cedillo was either pretending to misunderstand — or perhaps he actually does — is an attempt to rein in the ability of city politicians to raise money for their favorite local charitable causes. Its backers have nothing against philanthropy; they agree with the simple fact that private nonprofit organizations are among the strongest fibers in the American safety net for people in need.
But there’s a reason that requests by politicians of constituents, individual or corporate, for cash donations to certain charities are known in the government business as “behested payments.” Webster’s first definition of “behest” shows that the word comes from the Old English for “command.” It is inextricably linked to government authority; there’s also a reason the dictionary’s sample sentence is: “The meeting was called at the senator’s behest.”