Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is Indiana That Different From Illinois? Why Indiana Needs an Ethics Agenda

It is easy to laugh at our neighbor, Illinois, and the state's history of corruption in the Governor's Office and in the Chicago political scene. The last example, Governor Blagojevich, is the most humorous, while at the same time frightening, example of the abuse of executive power in Illinois that will most likely land yet another Illinois Governor in federal prison.

Yeah, those Illinois/Chicago politicians sure are corrupt. Hoosier politicians are so much cleaner, so much more above the graft and corruptive influence of money paid for government favors, which practice characterize Illinois politics. We should pat ourselves on the back for avoiding the corrupt political practices so prevalent in the Sate of Illinois.

Or should we? Or is the difference between Indiana and Illinois politics simply that Illinois politicians are more brazen about the quid pro quo (Latin phrase meaning this for that") exchanging money for the government favor, than Hoosier politicians? It is, after all, the quid pro quo that always gets politicians in trouble. Without the "this for that" generally required for a public corruption prosecution, most politicians walk away unscathed from the political favors he or she sells with a wink and a nod.

Hoosier politicians have hardly embraced an ethics agenda at any level of politics. Here are some example of problems we have in this state:
  • Legislators leaving the General Assembly to take big money jobs to lobby their colleagues. Indiana has no waiting period or limits on the revolving door between being a legislator and lobbyist.

  • Legislators taking jobs with companies who have strong interests before the legislator. Not too long ago we had a Senate Leader who actually made his living getting paid to give speeches to the same special interests appearing before the Senate asking him for favors during the legislative session.

  • Indiana has no limit on individual or PAC contributions.

  • Both parties allow the "franking privilege" to be abused by legislators to drive up their favorable name ID leading up to an election.
  • Privatization has led to an enormous influx of money into the political system by vendors seeking government contracts. While privatization used to be about instilling competition into the delivery of service, many services now only have one vendor "competing" for the contract and the vendor is often given a long-term contract. Contributions quite often play a role in the decision to privatize the service and who gets the contract. Many services privatized don't require bidding.

  • Elected officials who privatize services not only get major political campaign contributions from the vendors, in many cases they have been known to get other benefits on the side company stock or the company hires friends or family members of the official. An official raking in those benefits is quite likely going to look the other way when there are questions about whether the vendor is complying with the contract and/or the contract should be renewed. Indiana has no law preventing vendors from bestowing these "private benefits" on elected officials.

  • Public-private partnership, the cousin of privatization, has been yet another tool to allow corporations to get their hands on taxpayer money. For example, the City of Indianapolis in 1985 bought several downtown lots and then gave those lots to the Indiana Sports Corporation which agreed to develop them. The Agreement was signed on behalf of the Sports Corporation, by the Vice President of the Sports Corporation, a person who was and still is a very prominent real estate developer who contributes a ton of money to candidates. Who then does the Sports Corporation have develop the property? You guessed it, that same real estate developer. Taxpayers pay millions to buy the property and the Sports Corporation and the developer walk away with the money they made from developing it and selling it. Taxpayers are actually still paying on the bonds used to purchase the those lots.

  • A related problem: individuals sitting on boards such as the Capital Improvement Board, who have a direct personal and/or financial interest in the decisions those boards make. The CIB is only one such example. There are many such boards around town.

  • Individuals getting elected or appointed to part-time, but influential positions in government, suddenly being approached and hired by companies or law firms that do business with the government entity.

  • It is no big secret that the bigger law firms in town make calculated bets on which party is going to win the Mayor's Office and other county offices in order to receive no-bid contracts for legal services after the election. Once bestowed with such a contract, those law firms operate with little oversight over their bloated bills or the quality of their work. Taxpayer money goes to the law firm, some of which gets kicked back to the elected official in the form of large political contributions, which then leads to yet more legal services and more fleecing of the taxpayers. Everyone wins...except the taxpayers.

Those are just a few of the ethics/conflicts of interest problems plaguing Hoosier politics. While Hoosier politicians are smart enough to avoid the "quid pro quo" practices of Illinois governors and Chicago politicians, we should not lull ourselves into believing that we are above the type of politics practiced by our neighbor. We need an ethics reform agenda, and there is no better place to start on that agenda than in the Indiana General Assembly come this January.

See Advance Indiana's take on the need for ethics reform by clicking here:


varangianguard said...

Indiana is a pale reflection of the "abilities" displayed annually in Illinois. A U.S. Attorney's office doesn't have enough time or money to pursue the "little minnows" in the big cesspool of political graft.

As I said to Mike Kole this AM, maybe we ought to be spending "bailout" monies on the U.S. Attorneys' offices, so more cases can be pursued.

Bonus! All those excess graduates of law schools would be in demand.

Anonymous said...

The IPALCO and Lilly Boards

Blago is a piker.

Anonymous said...

The Governor of Illinois only attempted to make money. The folks in Indiana that write their own 40 year contracts and then default on their bond issues after sitting on the very State Appointed agency to choose the State Contractor looks like they may have as you stated made themselves to look a lot like Illinois over the last 70 years.

The clean up is long past and will take years to find the bottom of the brine.

The pressure needs to be placed on the Prosecutor's in Marion County and the US Attorney Office.