Not to be contrarian or anything, but really, what more of relevance did we expect to learn about the 38 Studios debacle? The whole thing is outrageous from ignominius start to Friday news dump end, but State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell has a point when he says, “A bad deal does not always equate to an indictment.” Neither does corrupt government.
Look, 38 Studios is the brand of Rhode Island’s deepest corruption for a reason. The General Assembly and the governor slipped through a big-money program with the promise of creating jobs, and a quasi-public agency put taxpayers on the line for a private company’s failure. Partly because the politicians and bureaucrats involved have our electoral system locked up with a mix of handouts, demagoguery, insider advantages, and (some of us suspect) not a little outright cheating, there were no real consequences. Moreover, the very same system that created the opportunity for corruption and failure in the first place is now the central economic development plan of our state.
It’s no good sitting around hoping that the corrupt will slip up and break the law so that the legal system can do what voters refuse to do. We’ve seen all the way up to the White House that America’s legal system doesn’t do that anymore. (A tweet that flitted across my screen this morning suggested that “the law is no longer working to protect us from the corrupt, but to protect the corrupt from us.)
More importantly, though, much of what we consider to be corruption is legal in Rhode Island, and that’s not necessarily wrong. Expand the scope of activities that are illegal — to include bad decisions or working with people you know, for example — and you’ll find it becoming a weapon used by the corrupt against those who are not corrupt. Look to Sheldon Whitehouse and various attorneys general for evidence or consider that, while the 38 Studios process may have been entirely legal, it is now illegal for people to spend almost any money advocating on local ballot questions without registering with the government.
The obvious solution is this: Get off the sidelines. Maybe run for office. If that’s more effort than you can reasonably muster, then resolve to support those who will shake up the system, both in office and in organizations that strive to keep the pressure on politicians and government. Perhaps reevaluate how much weight to give to different political issues (corruption and good government should maybe outweigh social issues in your decision-making for a decade or so).
That’s where change has to occur. Otherwise, each investigation, indictment, and prosecution is just a bucket of water as we attempt to bail out a submarine a mile below the surface. The fact that these suggestions are nothing new doesn’t make them less true.