To Catch A Senator

FBI and IRS agents raided the home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) yesteday as part of a corruption investigation concerning Stevens' connection with Alaskan energy company, Veco, whose CEO pleaded guilty in early May to a bribery scheme involving state lawmakers.

Federal investigators believe Veco may have helped Stevens renovate his house in exchange for earmarks. Contractors have told a federal grand jury that in 2000, Veco executives oversaw a lavish remodeling of Stevens's house in Girdwood, an exclusive ski resort area 40 miles from Anchorage. Veco has received more than $30 million in federal contracts since then. The Feds clearly don't think this is mere coincidence.

Over the past few years, Stevens and other members of Congress have come under federal investigation concerning their ties to lobbyists, defense contractors and other special interests. As a result, the House and Senate are expected to approve ethics legislation that would require more disclosure of lobbying activities and contributions to lawmakers.

Transparency is a good start, but I don't think that will do the job. I think the DOJ should take a page from Chris Hansen and the producers of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator." That show, if you haven't seen it, consists of a series of sting operations in which people go into internet chat rooms and pretend to be underage girls or boys. Then, when one meets an adult who wants to do something sexual with him or her, the fake teen invites the adult over for a tryst. When the predator arrives, Chris Hansen questions the pervert while hidden cameras watch. Then he tells the predator that he's on TV, and inevitably the guy runs away, only to be arrested by police officers outside the house.

Needless to say, it's extremely gratifying TV. The best part of the show, in my opinion, is the deterrent effect likely caused by the publicity of the show. Any pervert who knows about the show (and most do, since it's been on air for many years), has to think twice about whether the 12-year old they're going to see is for real or not. Even though it surely doesn't deter all of them, I would be willing to bet the project stops many unfortunate events from happening.

Dateline could start doing the same thing with politicians: Get a corporation or special interest group to play along, and set up meetings between fake lobbyists and politicians. Once the politicians bite on the bribe, or other favor, Chris Hansen and his cameras can come out of the woodwork and start interviewing them. It might not result in any convictions, but it would let the voters know who's on the take, and it would definitely be fun to watch them squirm.