Political Corruption Isn't Limited to Washington Bigwigs

From State Officials to DMV Employees, Ethics Problems Abound

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2005 —

In the wake of a mounting lobbyist corruption scandal, Republicans and Democrats have issued their own proposals aimed at tightening federal lobbying laws.

But government corruption is widespread. Judges, state senators, local government clerks and government employees at every level are being charged.

An undercover video, provided by the FBI, shows New Mexico State Treasurer Robert Vigil accepting kickbacks from a California businessman turned informant.

"Here's 5,000." "No, that's too much," say voices heard on the tape.

Vigil, who recently resigned, says the money was a legitimate campaign contribution, but he's now facing federal charges.

He is far from alone.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., admitted he took more than a $1 million in bribes and went on a buying spree that included the purchase of a yacht and a lavish home.

Former and current governors in Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio and Alabama have been accused of lining their pockets with payments and accepting gifts and expensive vacations.

Even 34 employees at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles have been charged with taking bribes to make fake licenses.

Since 9/11, the FBI has added 200 agents to its division that investigates corruption.

"Nobody can remember a greater investment of resources devoted to public corruption, nor can they remember this level of investigative activity in our public corruption cases," said Chris Swecker, who heads the FBI's criminal division.

A new ABC News poll suggests that Americans believe there is more corruption in Washington than among their own state and local officials.

More Than 1,000 Government Officials Convicted

But in the last two years, more than 1,000 government officials have been convicted of corruption -- including 177 federal officials, 158 state officials, 360 local officials and 365 police officers were charged too.

In 2004, prosecutions of government officials were up 21 percent compared with the year 2000.

"There's still a level of disbelief," said Swecker, "that some of our trusted government officials could be that blatant about what they were doing. I'm just like anybody else. My reaction is: How could they do that?"

Some anticorruption activists believe there could be serious consequences.

"This is an enormous problem for our democracy and it really is at a crisis point," said Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of the nonpartisan advocacy group Common Cause. "More and more people are looking at this level of corruption in Washington, in their home states and they're saying why should I bother to vote. "

The FBI is concerned the problem may spread out of control.

ABC News' Pierre Thomas filed this report for "World News Tonight."