The Political Profiling of Elected Democratic Officials: When Rhetorical Vision Participation Runs Amok
Donald C. Shields and John F. Cragan
18 February 2007
Our ongoing study of the Bush Justice Department (to be published in 2008) investigates the implications of the Bush/Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Department’s blended religious -fundamentalist and neo-conservative rhetorical vision. The study views the impact of the Justice Department’s vision on the fight against public corruption and reveals the non-proportionate political profiling of elected Democratic officials.
We presented the preliminary data through August 2004 at the Southern Speech Communication Annual meeting in April 2005 in Baton Rouge and as a refereed panel paper with data through December 2004 at the November 2005 annual meeting of the National Communication Association.
We compare political profiling to racial profiling by presenting the results (January 2001 through December 2006) of the U.S. Attorneys’ federal investigation and/or indictment of 375 elected officials. The distribution of party affiliation of the sample is compared to the available normative data (50% Dem, 41% GOP, and 9% Ind.).
Data* indicate that the offices of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation investigate seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.
Our paper explores the role of the fourth estate and others in detecting such profiling and concludes that what is really needed is transparency, the highlights of which are noted below.
The current Bush Republican Administration appears to be the first to have engaged in political profiling. Our paper calls for new federal laws that would create a national registry of federal investigations of elected officials by party affiliation. This new, political profiling registry could well be a hybrid of the current requirement for state and local reports of racial profiling in traffic stops and the Commerce Department’s Office of Labor Management Standards’ annual report on Union corruption.
The Harms of Political Profiling of Elected Democratic Officials
1. Political profiling makes Democratic officials look like they are more corrupt than Republicans, just as racial minorities are made to look more corrupt than whites by the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. However, the data on state-wide, U.S. Congress, and U.S. Senate elected officials do not support this claim. 2. Political profiling of local Democratic elected officials attacks the party at the very grassroots essence of its personality. Each local case of reported or insinuated corruption by the federal authorities eats at and saps the local Democrat’s energy to be the grassroots leader of the party and drains his or her resources in defense against the comparative unlimited resources of the federal government. 3. Political profiling discredits each candidate’s persona as a viable leader of and spokesperson for the local Democratic party. 4. Political profiling weakens the candidate’s ability to raise monies for themselves when seeking re-election and negates their ability to raise money for other democratic candidates. 5. By keeping political profiling at the local level — in this way the story is most likely not to be viewed nationally — it makes it harder for reporters to connect the dots between corruption investigations in say Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, or Philadelphia let alone towns like Carson, Colton, East Point, or Escambia, or counties like Cherokee, Harrison, Hudson, or Lake. Each local report of a corruption investigation appears as only an isolated incident rather than as a central example of a broader pattern created by the Bush Justice Department’s unethical practice of political profiling.
Historically, with the occurrence of such misaligned and out-of-whack political abuses as the ones indicated by this study’s data, the Country has turned to the fourth estate, the Courts, and civil rights groups such as the ACLU to help correct the problem. For example, just as the racial profiling of African-Americans could be traced — not to a conspiracy — but just to the mind-set of like-minded law enforcement officers, the Courts helped to mitigate the problem by setting out new rules that required public reports on the abuse that local newspapers print regularly.
The well-known racial profiling and this brand new abuse of political profiling both demonstrate that what is really needed to correct the problem is transparency. The current Republican Administration is the first to have been “caught” statistically as engaging in political profiling. The authors of this paper call for new federal laws that would create a national registry of the federal investigations of both candidates and elected officials by the U.S. Attorneys’ and other Justice Department Offices. That Political Profiling Registry would indicate when a candidate or elected official was under investigation and report the candidates’ or elected officials’ party affiliation. Subsequently, that Registry would indicate if the investigation ended in no action taken or if there was an indictment or some special finding. Then, too, that Registry would report if the indictment was accepted by the Courts, whether the Justice Department plea bargained with witnesses against the elected official, or plea bargained with the elected official, entered into a speedy trial (say within 4-6 weeks of any indictment, especially if the indictment occurred within an election cycle, and if there was an acquittal, or a conviction). Finally, in those cases of an acquittal, the Government would be responsible for legal expense and perhaps even punitive damages in civil court. That would help to deter the many frivolous Government investigations such as occurred in the City of Baltimore, MD. In tone and in deed, the new, Federal Political Profiling Registry would mirror both the current federal requirements for annual state and local reports of racial profiling data state-wide, the results of which the fourth-estate regularly reports, as well as the Commerce Department’s Office of Labor/Management Standards’ annual report on nation-wide instances of investigated, indicted, and convicted Union-based public corruption, which the fourth estate does a poor job of reporting.
* Data tables
The data supporting this article can be found in the PDF files linked below:
About the authors: Donald C. Shields, Ph.D. (University of Minnesota, 1974) is Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication, University of Missouri – St. Louis.
John F. Cragan (University of Minnesota, 1972) is Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication, Illinois State University.
Earlier versions of this longitudinal study were read as a “Top Three” paper in political communication at the annual meeting of the Southern States Communication Association, Baton Rouge, LA, April 2005 and at the political communication division panel on Neo-Conservative policy at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Boston, MA, November 2005.