Come on, Rhode Island. Isn’t this signal enough?
More than half of Rhode Island’s 113 lawmakers responded to a Journal survey last week, including 44 of 75 House members, and 19 of 38 senators. Of those who responded with more than an automatic reply, 15 acknowledged some link to an organization — such as a Little League team — that received a grant.
To go where Katherine Gregg couldn’t with that Providence Journal article, of the 63 legislators in the General Assembly who were willing to respond to her inquiry, 15 (or 24%) were also willing to admit something that looks to many of us like corruption, straight up. Of the 50 legislators who did not respond, we can only guess, but it would be reasonable to assume that their percentage is somewhat worse. Then there’s the reality that something makes legislators pick these non-profits. Keep digging, and I bet the number of connections climbs close to 100%.
This isn’t a close call; these things need to go.
Earlier today, someone of generally like mind expressed frustration about everything that goes on in our town, state, and nation that just shouldn’t. After years of thinking about this stuff, I find myself returning to the conclusion that our system of government has been hopelessly compromised, that the solution ultimately lies with us, but that those who’ve compromised the system have also worked to make it nearly impossible to fix.
Just look at these grants. How could legislators not know this is completely inappropriate, to the point that even those who strive to be ethical might not see it? Well, for one thing, nobody’s called them on it. It took the fall of Ray Gallison to open up a channel to start getting information about the corruption out to the public. That’s on us, for failing to create an environment for consumer news that would support such investigations.
We’re already seeing those who work for good government fall into the same ol’ trap over this latest controversy — hoping for government officials to come up with some sort of solution to problems that those same government officials created. But again: It’s on us. We have to investigate and support those who do. We have to run for office. We have to vote. The remedy for government excess isn’t more authority for government or more clever initiatives (like campaign finance reform) that corrupt politicians can manipulate to their advantage. The remedy is for the people to shake up the ant farm.
The obvious solution to the legislative grant problem within government is to end the legislative grant program. But that’s not going to happen, so it falls back to us to ramp up the amount of attention that we pay and the amount of effort that we put into changing things. Unfortunately, that requires some people to make a whole lot of effort, and the problem with being against government corruption is that it’s much harder to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”