The mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Patrick Cannon, a Democrat, has reportedly resigned after being arrested for taking bribes from undercover FBI agents.
The entrapment elements of this case and of other similar cases are disturbing (as discussed at greater length in this earlier post here).
But aside from the entrapment point, what strikes me is how the corruption allegations make a case for smaller government. From an NPR/AP story about the case:
According to the complaint, FBI agents posing as commercial real estate developers paid Cannon on five separate occasions between January 2013 and February 2014. Cannon accepted cash in exchange for access to city officials responsible for planning, zoning and permitting.
If property owners build on their property without needing approval from city "planning, zoning, and permitting" officials, it would eliminate the need for bribes or the opportunity for shakedowns.
More from the story:
According to the complaint, Cannon also accepted $12,500 from an undercover agent to help him develop a feminine hygiene product called "Hers." In exchange, Cannon offered to help the agent — posing as a business manager for a venture capital company — get the necessary permits to open a nightclub.
Again, if you could open a nightclub without a permit from the city — or if these permits were issued automatically through some sort of Web application rather than rationed out by politicians or bureaucrats — it would eliminate the need for bribes or the opportunity for shakedowns.
In May, two days after Cannon announced he was running for mayor, the first undercover agent introduced him to a second undercover agent posing as a developer from Las Vegas. The second agent told Cannon he was interested in developments along a streetcar and light rail line being built in Charlotte. Cannon provided the proposed routes and stops, according to the complaint....Cannon suggested that he receive a campaign donation before he made the trip to Las Vegas.
Instead, the agent agreed to pay for Cannon's trip to Las Vegas, plus $6,000 cash for spending money for his wife.
If these streetcar or light rail lines were built, owned, and operated by private companies rather than than by government, this sort of advance information would be a business partnership akin to Apple letting App developers know ahead of time about the next iPhone operating system release, not a federal bribery case.
Preventing corruption is just one of the many advantages of modest, limited government. Even small government will have corruption problems from time to time, just as private businesses will, because humans are imperfect. But it makes sense, where possible, to structure government so as to minimize the opportunities for corruption. The easiest way to crack down on corruption isn't hiring teams of undercover FBI agents or inspectors general or imposing lots of anticorruption regulations, but instead structuring government so it doesn't have a lot of arbitrary or discretionary authority over commerce.