Tony Belcourt, a former Montana Democratic state representative, pleaded guilty last Wednesday to theft, bribery and tax-evasion. The crimes amounted to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and bribes from numerous consultants and contractors who were awarded federal money for projects on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. Although prosecutors dropped dozens of charges, Belcourt is still facing up to 10 years in prison. His sentencing is set for August 14.
Belcourt was the chief executive officer and contracting officer for the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. As the contracting officer, he oversaw the money being used to build a drinking-water pipeline on the reservation. In 2010, he awarded $660,000 to a consulting company responsible for shipping pipe to the project site. The company was founded by the sister and father of Belcourt’s business partner. It then overbilled the cost of shipping pipe and sent $163,000 of that money back to him. Besides Belcourt, who pleaded guilty to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal grant funds, all those allegedly involved pleaded not guilty.
However, what is most important is the fact that these kinds of scandals are still occurring at such high levels of government. In an age in which one can find out the life story of any person in America by just reading their Facebook, it is still possible for the people that are supposed to be our leaders to commit crimes and treat the economy as if it were a game of Monopoly. Our leaders ought to be the most honest, the most transparent, and the most trustworthy candidates possible. Unfortunately, it seems like it is usually the exact opposite.
Maybe it is too utopian, or too naive, to argue that our lawmakers ought to be law-abiding citizens. But with the amount of corruption in American politics today, it is something we must demand. In modern America, a leader has become someone who has a big wallet, not someone who handles the economy for the peoples’ best interests. A leader has become someone with an entourage of speech writers that are most adept at manipulating the truth, not one with an entourage of common citizens. A leader has become someone who preserves the interests of a few, not the needs of the many. It is not that we need more laws, more guidelines, and more punishment. That clearly isn’t working. What we need is a complete reinvigoration of what it means to be a citizen in a country dominated by social media and the Internet. A country where anyone, and everyone, can have a voice if they just use the tools in front of them.
As college students in America, we need to realize that we have more power than we think. With every social media platform, every mobile device connected to the Internet, every textbook right at our fingertips, and the sheer number of us in the prime of our life, we can be the most powerful leaders in this country. We can ensure that honesty be at the forefront of our political endeavors, we can ensure that integrity be our most cherished attribute. As college students, we can decide the future of this country, the future of our lives.
It is quite remarkable that our leaders can get away with so much, and yet it seems to be the norm. It is time we start using the technology of social media to serve real purposes for this country and for this world. The voice of the common citizen has never been so powerful. With Facebook and Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, Google and the reach of bloggers: we can ensure fraud and corruption become a thing of the past. Tony Belcourt is just one example of corrupted politicians, seeking a comfortable life over a contented citizenry. He is not the first criminal in government, and he will not be the last. But with the social tools that we have today, we can ensure that the leaders we choose are the leaders that lead.