The Clintons and the fountain-pen robbers

Guess who’s been on the payroll of infoUSA, which sold lists of gullible seniors to con artists?

It’s hard to say which would be more troubling: that the shareholders of infoUSA didn’t get value for the largesse the company has showered on the Clintons, or that they did.

Remember, infoUSA is the outfit that helped, and profited, as fraudsters emptied the bank accounts of elderly folks whose names infoUSA sold them under rubrics such as “These people are gullible.”

If any Democratic legislator has taken advantage of what seems to be an obvious political opportunity by filing legislation to make companies and their executives criminally liable for the sort of behavior infoUSA engaged in, I must have missed the story. Who wants to annoy a close friend of someone who might be his party’s Presidential nominee?

If Bill Clinton wanted to actually earn his money from infoUSA, he’d tell Mr. Gupta that the company ought to draft, and lobby for, a tough law aimed at exactly the kind of conduct it engaged in. I don’t believe for a second that selling those lists was an aberration, but that at least promoting a law to make that sort of conduct dangerous in the future would be evidence of actual corporate remorse, with (as the Catholics say) “a firm purpose of amendment.” As it is, I doubt the remorse is there, and I doubt that either of the Clintons actually gives a rat’s ass about how their buddy makes his money.

Is it any wonder the electorate is cynical? One of the reasons I’m enthusiastic about Barack Obama is that he doesn’t appear to have done any of this sort of cashing-in.

Prediction: The infoUSA/Clinton connection, which goes to the heart of the way corporations buy protection from regulation, will be a one-day event, while John Edwards’s haircut will live in infamy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com