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Political Corruption 101: Collusion in Politics

2 min read
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Good Party Politics Team · Dec 4, 2023

“The real cost of corruption in government, whether it is local, state, or federal, is a loss of the public trust.” ~ Mike Quigley


Corruption stands as a formidable challenge in the world of politics, affecting nations across the globe to various degrees. Among the various forms of political corruption, collusion is particularly insidious. Although collusion is not technically a crime, it is often a critical element in a range of corrupt political activities. 

Read on as we delve into the concept of collusion in politics as well as its mechanisms, impacts, and real-world examples. We'll also explore how independent candidates can potentially counteract such corruption.

Understanding Collusion in Politics

What Is Collusion?

Collusion in politics refers to a secretive agreement or cooperation between parties for a deceitful or fraudulent purpose. It typically involves individuals or groups from different sectors (political, business, etc.) working together covertly to gain power, influence decisions, or secure financial gains.

Because collusion itself isn’t illegal, there are gray areas involved that make all but the most blatant cases difficult to prove and prosecute.

How Does Collusion Work?

In general, collusion is implicated whenever one or more persons or entities get together and plot to defraud individuals, organizations, or government entities. This can play out in several ways, and it can involve personal and/or financial gain to one or more stakeholders.

Collusion in politics can take various forms, including:

  • Backdoor Agreements: Secret agreements between politicians and business leaders, often involving kickbacks or favorable policy changes.

  • Election Rigging: Collaboration to manipulate election outcomes, either through voter suppression, misinformation, or tampering with voting systems.

  • Influence Peddling: Exchanging money, gifts, or favors for political influence or decisions.

  • Lobbying Overreach: While lobbying is a legitimate part of a democratic process, it crosses into collusion when there are hidden agreements that unduly influence legislative processes.

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The Impact of Collusion on Politics

Unlike other corrupt acts, there is no specific legal definition of collusion in the U.S. criminal code. Collusion can involve foreign countries or domestic companies, and spans crimes ranging from espionage to campaign finance violations. Remuneration can include any “thing of value,” whether that be a government contract, cash, or information. 

Because of several ambiguities, proving collusion is a whole other issue. 

For example, information could be given to a candidate that might prove useful during a campaign. When no money is exchanged for this information, investigators would have to prove that the information was illegally and knowingly used to influence the election, and that the person or entity providing that information did so with the promise — or in the hopes of — gaining some form of influence after the election. 

As with many crimes, it sometimes comes down to intent. 

However, collusion undermines democratic principles, leading to:

  • Eroded Public Trust: When leaders are embroiled in collusion, public faith in governance dwindles.

  • Unfair Policy Making: Policies may be skewed to benefit a few at the expense of the majority.

  • Economic Consequences: Collusive practices can lead to economic disparities and hinder fair market competition.

According to research conducted by the Transparency International Organization, corruption and fraud in government contracts alone accounts for a loss of up to 50% of the value of those contracts. Those losses are then passed on to taxpayers in the form of intangibles like higher prices, substandard services, and inferior products. 

Illustrating Political Collusion: Real-World Examples and Hypothetical Scenarios

When discussing ambiguous corrupt acts that are sometimes difficult to prove without direct evidence, such as tapes or a paper trail, it helps to examine both actual and hypothetical examples of collusion. 

If nothing else, it makes suspected cases of collusion easier to detect when you see them. 

Real-World Examples of Collusion

#1: Brazil's Operation Car Wash

This vast investigation unearthed a massive corruption scheme involving Brazilian politicians, the state-controlled oil company Petrobras, and local construction firms, leading to numerous arrests and general political upheaval. 

The scheme involved kickbacks from various companies to the Petrobras officials and several politicians in exchange for government contracts. The investigation resulted in convictions of dozens of business leaders and political figures, led to the incarceration of former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and paved the way for the election of far-right opponent Jair Bolsonaro. 

It also unveiled possible collusion on top of collusion in recent reports that the U.S. government violated the terms of Brazilian law and several international treaties in an effort to steer the course of the investigation. That is in conjunction with possible political bias and interference by the judge and prosecutors handling the case. 

#2: The Watergate Scandal

A well-known and classic example of political collusion, the Watergate Scandal is the go-to when discussing political corruption, adding the suffix “gate” to almost any public scandal. The scheme involved President Richard Nixon and key figures in his administration and their efforts to sabotage political opponents by bugging Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. 

What started as an investigation into a break-in at the hotel complex quickly spiraled into a multi-layered scandal involving FBI officials, White House staffers, and re-election campaign officials, and ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. 

#3: The South Korean Bid-Rigging Scheme

This scandal implicated several South Korean oil companies and a bid-rigging scheme to defraud the U.S. military. It also led to the creation of the Procurement Collusion Strike Force (PCSF) with a mandate to root out crimes involving bid-rigging conspiracies in government procurement, grant awards, and program funding.

Altogether, the scandal involved five South Korean oil companies and seven individuals who colluded to suppress competitive bids for government fuel contracts supplying U.S. military bases located in South Korea. It resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal and civil fines when the case was finally concluded in the Southern District of Ohio. 

#4: The Investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 Election Campaign

The most recent and notorious game of collusion/no collusion is, of course, the famous case of the Trump campaign during the 2016 elections. Although collusion could not be proved during the numerous investigations into the campaign and its surrogates, other crimes were committed and several individuals either pleaded or were found guilty and sentenced for their roles. 

Hypothetical Scenarios

The above examples involved larger corporations and federal-level government entities. In addition to known and settled cases of political collusion, there are several possible scenarios for how collusion could occur at any level of government.

Here are some examples of how this often plays out in the real world: 

  • Scenario 1: A major corporation secretly funds a political campaign in exchange for the promise of deregulation favorable to its business.

  • Scenario 2: Political leaders collude with media moguls to spread misinformation about political opponents, swaying public opinion and election results.

  • Scenario 3: City council members collude with local service providers to award government contracts in exchange for kickbacks. 

The Role of Independent Candidates in Preventing Political Corruption

Independent candidates, who aren’t bound by party affiliations or big-money donors, can be vital in combating political corruption by offering:

  • Fresh Perspectives: Independents can bring new ideas and approaches to governance that are unmarred by party dogmas.

  • Reduced Influence of Big Money: Independent candidates are less likely to be swayed by corporate donations, reducing the chances of collusion.

  • Transparency and Accountability: Being free from party constraints, independents can focus on transparency and accountability in government.

Final Thoughts

Collusion in politics, as a facet of political corruption, poses a significant threat to democratic values and governance. Understanding its mechanisms and impact is crucial in identifying and combating these unethical practices. 

The emergence of independent candidates could provide a beacon of hope that ushers in an era of greater transparency and reduced corruption in the political landscape.

Help Us Put Trust Back in Government

Whenever politicians and business leaders collude to defraud the government or the people it represents, it further degrades trust in the political process. It also opens the door for further corrupt acts.

Good Party is on a mission to instill trust in our government institutions and create a government that works for the people instead of politicians. But we can’t do it alone. 

Join us in our efforts to find and support honest independent candidates who put people before power. 

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By Good Party Politics Team
The GoodParty.org politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.