File Under “It’s Who You Know”…

Oligarchies work really well if you are one of the oligarchs. The Indianapolis Star recently re-engaged in something that used to be called “journalism,” and reported that the State of Indiana had intentionally misused federal funds during the Daniels Administration.

Federal auditors say Indiana intentionally misused federal funds when one of its contractors, operating with little state oversight, funneled nearly a half million dollars to a start-up business run by the nonprofit’s chairman.

Elevate Ventures, which was the subject of an Indianapolis Star investigation last year, was hired by the state to manage millions of dollars in state and federal investment funds. The federal audit concluded that the nonprofit should not have awarded $499,986 in federal cash to a start-up business called Smarter Remarketer managed by the firm’s chairman, Howard Bates.

The article was thorough, and drew a pretty damaging picture of the games being played with our tax dollars. State officials, of course, denied any intentional wrongdoing and attributed the “problem” to inadequate oversight.

Spoiler alert: I will now go into “broken record” mode. For the past quarter-century, citizens have been told that government can’t do anything by itself, and that privatizing–“contracting out”–is the way to deliver government services. Sometimes contracting makes good sense. Often, it doesn’t. See here and here.

When contracting is appropriate, government remains responsible for oversight and management. Even if the scam detailed by the Star wasn’t a case of cronyism (and if you believe that, I have a great bridge to sell you…), it points to one of the dangers of  contracting: government officials who lack either the will or the expertise to manage those contracts adequately.

Of course, the article suggests that the folks responsible for overseeing Elevate Ventures weren’t inept. They were cozy.

Ah, oligarchy….


…With A Little Help from My Friends

On my way to work this morning, WFYI informed me that today is the day Mark Massa will be sworn in as the newest Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

When Governor Daniels announced that he had chosen Massa, there was a good deal of criticism. Some observers expressed surprise that–once again–the Governor had ignored an opportunity to diversify the Court, that–once again–he had declined to appoint an eminently qualified woman. Adding insult to injury, Daniels claimed that his choice was based upon the candidates’ relative qualifications for the job, a manifestly bogus excuse.

I was not surprised by the choice, which I’d predicted well before the commission charged with winnowing the field even sent three names to the Governor. Nor do I believe it had any more to do with sexism than it did with merit.

This is Indiana–the crony state.

There’s a pretty robust academic literature dealing with political culture. Some states (Massachusetts, say) have a liberal culture that promotes public service; others (Arizona, Texas) take a considerably more conservative, parochial approach to the role of government. When I was researching state differences in political culture for a book on the Faith-Based Initiative, I asked George Geib–past Dean of History at Butler University and a long-time Indianapolis Republican operative–how he would describe Indiana’s political approach. His answer was that the framework within which we conduct our affairs is quid pro quo. 

Look around at the so-called “privatization” initiatives. Lucrative deals for parking and welfare intake have gone to well-connected ACS. The developer of the parking garage being built in Broad Ripple used to work for the Ballard Administration. A PR firm that gets city business just “happens” to employ Ballard’s son. These are just a few examples that come readily to mind; there are literally hundreds of others.

This isn’t new in Indiana, and it isn’t the exclusive provenance of Republicans. Both parties have practiced politics as spoils system, both have favored their cronies with appointments and contracts.

The problem women have in a crony system is that we are late to the party, and less likely to play the game–less likely to be one of the favored cronies. Nothing against our gender–if we were playing by the good old boys’ rules, we’d probably be equally likely to be rewarded with the plum jobs and/or contracts.

Mark Massa was counsel to the Governor; by all accounts, the two are friends. And in a state where doing business with your friends is the way business is done, his appointment was a foregone conclusion.