By Watchdog Staff / November 28, 2016 /at Watchdog.org
Bureaucrats and politicians manipulate the system, for their own benefit and for the benefit of their friends and financial allies. How do they get away with it? They get a lot of practice and, all too often, nobody is watching. But we are.
Here’s a top 10 list of bureaucrats, politicians and rent seekers who tried to make the system work for themselves and their cronies:
1. Selling Access: Meetings for dollars
Facetime is key in politics. Every lobbyist works hard to get a meeting with someone who can effect policy change on any given issue. And it would appear that Google has struck gold with their number of White House meetings.
The ever-expanding Google, which is pushing its high-speed Google Fiber internet service, as well as other technologies, has a friend in President Obama. As it has sought to curry favor in several major cities with new laws to aid its Google Fiber expansion, Google has been one of the most frequent White House visitors. The company’s top lobbyist, Johanna Shelton, visited the White House at least 128 times since Obama took office, more than the lobbyists for Comcast, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle and Verizon combined.
2. Tit for Tat: Support in exchange for favorable lawmaking
You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Politicians ask for support from special interest groups during campaign season, and in turn, place issue advocates in high-powered positions to influence legislation and regulation.
During President Obama’s first race for the White House, he promised an audience of Service Employees International Union members that “we are going to paint the nation purple with SEIU.” True to his word, his administration has worked tirelessly over the past eight years to keep that promise. He stocked the National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor with people who have long been cozy with labor unions. These agencies in turn have written regulations such as the overtime rule, persuader rule, blacklisting rule and joint employer standards — all of which target job creators and pave the way for union encroachment into the workplace.
3. Friends in High Places: No-bid contracts
A favorite way for state bureaucrats to manipulate the system is through no-bid contracts. High-paying work is routinely awarded to favored special interests and politically connected allies without having to compete for the privilege.
Consider Enterprise Florida, the state’s chief economic development organization. Before resigning earlier this year, former president Bill Johnson was caught giving an employee from his previous PortMiami job two no-bid contracts for part-time consulting and speechwriting work worth $158,000. Johnson added an extension worth $99,999, exactly one penny less than the amount triggering public transparency.
4. End of Year Budgeting: Hail Mary appropriations
The state budget process is supposed to be transparent and accountable, but politicians love to sneak in additional spending at the last minute to avoid having to debate whether the spending is necessary.
What’s $105 million of other people’s money among friends? Every year, Florida lawmakers add tens of millions of dollars worth of “supplemental” appropriations during the wind-down of the legislature’s annual budgeting process – often at the last minute. It’s a way to fund pet projects and spread the wealth in home districts while avoiding regular legislative scrutiny. It happens every year. In 2016, lawmakers added 143 extra appropriations to the $82.3 billion state budget, worth $104.9 million, according to Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan budget watchdog.
5. Selling a Bill of Goods: Buying health care stakeholders
It’s hard to look at a complex issue like health care with any objectivity when you’re in bed with a large stakeholder. And who usually ends up suffering? Sick patients.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has a symbiotic relationship with state hospitals: If they support his political policies, he’ll up their funding. Shumlin needed the muscle of large hospital systems to support his sweeping move to a global budget as the foundation for Vermont’s health care. In return, Shumlin continues to ignore the uneven reimbursement rates granted to hospitals over private practices, even proposing a new tax on private physicians and dentists to generate more revenue for hospitals. As a result, independent physicians are fleeing the state and taking their superior patient care with them.
6. Not My Union: Counterproductive campaign donations
Workers sign up for unions — usually voluntarily, sometimes not — with the expectation that their best interests will be at the forefront of the union agenda. But the allure of campaign promises sometimes leads union bosses to stray from their first priority: their union members.
In Pennsylvania, multiple attempts at combating the spiraling public pension costs for state employees and teachers have failed in the legislature, most recently in October. Meanwhile unions have been funneling millions of dollars into campaigns. The governor and a number of lawmakers receive campaign donations from unions, which strongly opposed the most recent reform effort.
7. Carrots and Sticks: Embracing a corrupt system
Office culture can be good or bad. And when corrupt officials are in charge, employees are rewarded for participating in a dysfunctional system while honest people who speak up are punished.
Corruption is the culture at the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, according to whistleblowers who have made a federal case. The former hearing office director at the Madison, Wis., ODAR is accused of presiding over a system of carrots and sticks – for those who play ball with her corrupt system, and for those who don’t. The manager has been removed from her position while federal agents investigate widespread accusations of misconduct and retaliation at the Madison office.
8. Stunning Admissions: Trading law school acceptance for favors
We expect public universities to serve the public and admit the most qualified applicants. But what happens when the university serves the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of qualified students?
In Texas, a university president came up with one of the all-time great crony schemes. Bill Powers realized how valuable admission to his university was, so he traded spots, particularly seats at the University of Texas law school, for chits from politicians, and to smooth “relations” with donors and potential donors. He made so many powerful friends this way that when he was caught, he almost managed to keep his job.
9. Distorting the Law: Abuse of power and position
Some public positions exist only to uphold and enforce the rule of law. When partisan politics rears its ugly head in these instances, justice is denied for all involved.
John “Doe” Chisholm has earned a reputation as the Javert of Wisconsin prosecutors. The partisan Milwaukee County District Attorney not only launched Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation, he spent untold taxpayer dollars trying to resurrect it when it was declared dead by the state Supreme Court. He did it all to the applause of his liberal friends, who wanted on a political platter the heads of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his conservative allies. And now, after the predawn, armed raids and spying operations on innocent citizens, Chisholm is desperately using the power of his office to try to hold onto the “evidence” he and his fellow prosecutors grabbed up – to protect himself from the civil rights lawsuits sure to follow.
10. Stacking the Deck: When contractors become employees
It’s no secret that the government uses various contractors to support citizen services. This keeps a tight rein on the number of full-time government employees with taxpayer-funded salaries and pensions. However, sometimes government turns around and hires the contractors anyway.
Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright, the nation’s highest paid state education chief, has made a habit of rewarding former Mississippi Department of Education contractors with lucrative employment. John Q. Porter was hired as the MDE’s chief information officer after the firm he worked for raked in $386,000 in contracts, as was JP Beaudoin, who has since left the department.
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