January 10, 2017; Washington Post

“I’m a mortal man. That’s the problem.” Well, mortal men make choices and they often have to live with the consequences.

William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), a former Maryland state legislator and former Prince George’s County Council member, claims his imperfect humanity led him to accept a $2,000 bribe in the parking lot of a Virginia restaurant, just one payment of an estimated $40,000–$50,000 he received in exchange for official favors between 2007 and 2014. Campos pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy on January 5th and is awaiting sentencing.

According to the Washington Post, “The bulk of the illegal activity involves Campos’s directing more than $325,000 in government grants or funds intended for charitable giving to business owners, nonprofit organizations and other parties in exchange for personal payments while serving on the Prince George’s [County] council.”

Campos is the first of several people to be indicted or reach plea bargains with prosecutors in a corruption probe involving kickbacks and payoffs for securing liquor licenses and other “pay to play” transactions. Beginning in 2007, during his first term as a county councilor, “Campos engaged in three major types of corruption: funneling county government grants to business owners in exchange for payments, accepting kickbacks for steering county money to some individuals’ charities, and writing a letter of recommendation on county letterhead in return for $2,000.” Campos also encouraged some people to establish charitable organizations to be used to channel funds in ways controlled by Campos.

Campos has asked for prayers for the others who have been or will be charged with crimes related to the federal corruption probe. “I know what lies ahead for many others.” Campos accepted a bribe from an FBI informant in a bathroom in College Park, MD in 2012, indicating that the investigation has been going on for some time.

In addition to the start-up of apparently fake charities, there are concerns that some county councilors were able to exert undue influence using an annual discretionary fund of $100,000 per council member to benefit local nonprofits. In recent years, councilors referred the decision-making to a local community foundation. The council chair indicates that, in the wake of the investigation’s findings, the policy governing the discretionary funds, now $107,000 per council member, will be reconsidered.

Based on the Post story, the (albeit implied) good news is that no pre-existing charities were involved in inappropriate or illegal activity. However, the story reiterates the uncomfortable relationship between government officials, public funding, and personal oversight and direction of charitable dollars. Navigating the potential and real conflicts of interest, much less the potential for theft and influence peddling, provides more than ample opportunity for mortal men (and women) to shirk their public duty in the name of personal gain. U.S. Attorney Ron Rosenstein said, “Mr. Campos’s favorite charity was himself.”—Michael Wyland