Monday, March 13, 2006

Thoughts on Blackwell's Payola Problem

As reported in the Dispatch yesterday and blogged by Buckeye State last night, J.Ken has indeed received donations from outfits that have received no-bid contract work from his office. His fall back is basically the NABA position -- he's Not As Bad As Petro. He makes some mealy-mouthed statements about not aggressively seeking the donation that he until recently denied getting; he argues about the magnitude of jack received.

Fact is, this looks like in at least some cases like quid pro quo. I will at listen to the argument that the sorts of businesses that do business with the state also have an interest in good government in the state. But when I see items like:

For example, Blackwell has awarded no-bid personal-services contracts to
Boston-based Keane Inc. for computer-related work and has taken $6,300 from
company officials and their spouses in Ohio since 1999,
I gotta roll my eyes. The company is from Boston and the services look an awful lot like something that could be bid.

A few disparate takes on all this . . .

Privatization for Private Gain

Privatization is one of the big movements on the Right, and if done correctly it can yield real benefits for taxpayers. Privatization can be done a few different ways -- the government can simply sell off an enterprise (usually things like zoos or public transportation lines), the government can create an artificial market (e.g. school privatization), or the government can contract with private entities as opposed to doing the work itself.

The third flavor of privatization is particularly prone to corruption -- legal or otherwise. After all, much of the progressive reforms aimed at bringing down the city political machines were aimed at the vast sums that could be channeled to political supporters. Of course, the other part of the equation was establishing civil service so that machines couldn't simply supply supporters with jobs instead.

All of which is to say, as we embark on various privatization experiments, we need to be mindful of the potential for abuse and structure the rules accordingly.

Public Finance for Clean Privatization.

One way to prevent privatized services from becoming a pig trough is to break the link between vendors and elected officials. You can do that with long, cumbersome, technical rules about who can donate when. Or we could move to public election financing and dispense with all of this. Remember, if he didn't explicitly link donations to work, Blackwell did nothing illegal. The system is one of decriminalized graft. Rules don't work. Public finance might.

The Winner Is . . .

The clear winner in this is Petro. Blackwell's NABA defense will keep his supporters from wandering off the reservation, but Average Voter isn't interested in such fine distinctions. You are dirty or you are clean; A.V. has no truck with degrees of dirt.

The other potential winner is Subodh Chandra. His track record says he is able to bring work in-house, limiting overall costs. He is the only candidate in any race who can legitimately claim that he can clean up the special counsel system.


54cermak said...

What are some examples of ways in which privatization has yielded benefits to taxpayers? I'm not being snarky, just curious.