Time was when I was a young man and I heard about government corruption, I would simply shake my head in disbelief and hope like hell my generation could save the world from those lying greedy bastards.
Gradually, however, I came to see such chicanery as commonplace and, in the recent case of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, fodder for humor and amusement. But when I moved to Connecticut in 1984, I was treated to an endless parade of crooked politicians: e.g. the mayors of Waterbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, and of course, another disgraced former governor, Johnny “Pockets” Rowland.
Now we have the case of corruption — as well perhaps just looking the other way — among state employees who committed fraud in an effort to receive hastily distributed food stamps in the wake of Hurricane Irene. About 15 employees, those deemed “obvious,” have been referred for investigation. Almost 800 others who received aid are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. I think it’s safe to say that more fraud will be detected.
I agree with Don Pesci that the culture of corruption is made worse by the enormous risk that whistleblowers put themselves at when they report malfeasance to authorities. And it’s ridiculous to have an AG’s office charged with representing the state in litigation involving whistleblowing while also duty-bound to represent the whistleblowers themselves.
I’ve heard callers to talk radio shows, including Rowland’s, who are jumping at the chance to impugn state workers, as if somehow they’re alone are are prone to cheating. But it’s not really the class of those who cheat that matters so much as what they are cheating to get. And here the private sector has nothing over the public sector.
It’s an immutable law of physics that whenever there’s a big pile of government money for the taking, pigs line up at the trough waiting to slop it up. It doesn’t matter whether the pigs work for the government, a big corporation or a mom-and-pop package store. To wit, Boston’s Big Dig. The severely over-budget, scandal-plagued, design-flawed tunnel project was a textbook case of tag-team swinish behavior on the part of public and private entities.
I guess the lesson here is that doling out public funds is best done with deliberation. Whenever there is pressure to get the money out and spend it — be it food aid in the heat of the moment after a storm in Connecticut, stimulus funds for jobs that aren’t quite shovel-ready — the swine will be ready for the feast.
Why? Is it a simple matter of greed? Yes, but it gets worse when it’s government money because of the perception that … it’s nobody’s money.