Commentator Armstrong Williams made a big mistake when he accepted a $240,000 payoff from the Bush administration for touting its intrusive, unconstitutional federal policies on education.

He’s been beaten up by his colleagues. He has flagellated himself publicly. And now the Federal Communications Commission is ordering an investigation into whether he broke the law by failing to disclose he took payola from the Bush administration to plug the president’s education agenda.

There’s just one thing missing from this story as far as I’m concerned.

Where are the calls for punishment of the government officials who wrote the check?

If a transaction is unethical for one party, isn’t it unethical – maybe even illegal – for the other party?

Since when in America do only people accepting bribes get prosecuted? Aren’t there penalties for the people handing out the cash?

What’s the worse sin – a guy taking money he’s asked to accept from the government to do something he already wants to do, or, government officials taking money from you and me by force and buying influence with media people to persuade you and me they are doing such a terrific job?

I’ve been watching the coverage of this story for a week now, and I have to tell you I’m stunned by it.

All of the coverage has focused on Williams’ ethical breach to the absolute exclusion of the government’s role.

Other journalists and commentators have seized on Williams’ ethical lapse to boast about how clean their hands are. Other talk-show hosts with fat, multi-million-dollar contracts have sneered at what Williams did, pompously telling us how they would never, ever sell their own broadcaster birthrights for a mess of pottage. Others on the left and right are so busy pointing their fingers at Williams they have missed the much bigger story.

What is government doing using taxpayer dollars to buy influence with media people? With all the laws Williams may have broken, didn’t the government officials involved break any? If not, how could that be? Is it legal for government officials to hand out taxpayer dollars to their friends as favors or rewards? Just exactly who were the people responsible for this decision? Have there been other examples of this kind of abuse of taxpayer dollars in this administration and previous ones?

These are the questions I want to see answered. And, maybe I’ve missed it in all the coverage, but why isn’t anyone even asking these questions?

I look at the U.S. Constitution and I don’t see any justification or excuse for the federal government to be even remotely involved in education. And, in this case, we see federal education officials using money collected – supposedly to aid schoolchildren – being used to buy political influence.

If this is not a crime, it certainly should be.

Of course, the bigger crime is that politicians of the left and right, Democrats and Republicans, continue to conspire to bilk the American people for more and more taxpayer dollars for a failing education system – a system that is misappropriating money, centralizing authority in Washington and raising generations of intellectual and moral ignoramuses.

It strikes me that Williams is but a bit player in this drama.

But he can still redeem himself. It’s time for Williams to name names. It’s time for Williams to stop apologizing and explain fully how this deal was put together – who initiated it, which officials were involved and how the payments were made.

Let’s see the contracts. Let’s see who signed them. Let’s see the receipts. Let’s see the paper trail.

And, while he’s at it – perhaps in between mea culpas – isn’t it time for Williams to explain how and when he will be reimbursing the American taxpayers for this ripoff? Wouldn’t that mean a little bit more than just saying he’s sorry?

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