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Political corruption to be topic of two-day conference (Released: 11/9/98)

by Richard Veilleux, Office of University Communications

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The fall of Communism and the fragile start of a market economy in the former U.S.S.R. brought organized crime into vogue. Now a black market, prostitution and drug sales flourish.

Third World democracies struggle to get their economies on a solid footing, opening the doors for corrupt political "leaders" to skim millions of dollars from key industries and to demand illegal payments from multi-national firms seeking to open factories in their lands, strangling hopes that their nations can join the global marketplace and create a better life for their people.

To gain influence in the halls of power, American corporations, associations, and other lobbying groups pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of political parties in the United States, much of it skirting rules and regulations.

The many faces of political corruption, in America and overseas, and how -- or whether -- it can be controlled will be explored Nov. 13-14 in the Starr Building at the University of Connecticut School of Law on Elizabeth Street in Hartford. The program, Political Corruption in Market Democracies, will take place November 13 from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. It will feature top scholars from across the country and several government officials, including U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th, who has led the fight for campaign finance reform in Congress. Shays will speak during dinner Nov. 13 from 7 - 10 p.m.

The keynote speaker during lunch Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. - noon, is Susan Rose-Ackerman, the author of three books that explore public policy and corruption and the Henry R. Luce Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University. Rose-Ackerman, a political economist, also was a research fellow at the World Bank in 1995-96, studying the impact of corruption on economic development.

"All market democracies are vulnerable to political corruption," says Joel Paul, a law professor, director of international programs and graduate studies at the law school, and coordinator of the conference. "We want to consider political corruption -- its nature, its sources, and its consequences -- in central and Eastern Europe, the Third World, and the United States, and the fundamental challenge of deterring the influence of money in politics while preserving free expression and access to representative government.

"We want to explore what it is about the character of the modern political system that has corrupted the process, and how we can control that political corruption," he says.

Hoping to find that answer, Paul has assembled a cast of more than two dozen researchers from across the country, specialists in political science, sociology, economics, law, and journalism. The panels will discuss five key topics, four on Friday and the fifth, a working session to mull what can be done to stem corruption, from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Joining the audience for the event will be 50-60 foreign attorneys, most of them from central and Eastern European countries, who are spending the year at the UConn Law School under the auspices of the Soros Institute. The conference is cosponsored by the Soros Open Society Institute and the U.S. Information Agency. The workshops are free and open to the public.