With former Democrat Representative Raymond Gallison (Bristol, Portsmouth) resigning under the dark cloud of an unspecified federal investigation, the local news media is finally taking a careful look at the suspicious non-profit organization by which the former House Finance Committee chairman has funneled money from the controversial legislative grant program to himself.
This isn’t exactly new information. When Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Cranston) appointed Gallison to his committee position, Gallison’s Alternative Educational Programming grants came under a little bit of scrutiny, mainly focused on the somewhat wonky question of whether his new authority over his own income amounted to an ethics violation. One reason that inquiry might not have caught the public’s imagination is that everybody knows that the speaker makes the key decisions, so whether Gallison was a committee chairman or just another sycophant for House leadership didn’t make that much of a difference.
Of course, that lack of difference should have meant that questions of ethics should have been raised about Gallison’s funding stream when he was just a regular ol’ representative. That’s part of the reason that, in 2014, I looked into government spending data to find that one in six legislators or their employers receive some form of payment from the state government. In a healthier civic environment, political opponents, the news media, and good government groups would dig into every dollar of that money so that we would all, collectively, be able to understand how our government works.
Being included in that group in at least two of the three listed categories, I’m certainly not inclined to insist on conspiracies. The biggest reason we don’t have that level of scrutiny of government is that the population of Rhode Island doesn’t value it sufficiently. Groups like the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity are spread so thinly that one person has to fill multiple roles (with a fraction of the pay that corresponding people inside government get) and can’t afford to dig too many empty wells looking for controversy. Even the Providence Journal can’t afford to maintain a stable of journalists combing the state for political stories, hoping to find at least one each with enough frequency to fill a paper for which folks will pay less than the price of a cup of coffee.
That said, I do think decisions within the news media have played a role. The preference at the Projo, for example, for Democrats, labor unions, and welfare advocates has been undeniable for at least as long as I’ve been reading it. That not only drives away frustrated readers (like me, more than once); it whistles right past headline-worthy stories.
It’s great that we’re getting the details on Gallison now that he’s effectively out of the picture for actual governance, but imagine the effects of Katherine Gregg’s story about the shady education organization if it had hit at the same time as my investigation linked above — that is, right before voters’ opportunity to shake up the General Assembly. Not only would it have energized voters for the election, but it would have changed elected officials’ sense of the scrutiny they might face (beyond some guy on the Internet) and given news consumers the sense that journalists really are watchdogs on their side.
Instead, one suspects that more-mainstream voices won’t join those of us who have been struggling to draw attention to these problems for years, and Mattiello and the legislative grant program will just ride out the brief wave of attention… until the next one comes along. And even then, the controversy will serve in part as a flashy distraction from the true, systemic corruption that insiders have woven throughout our government and with which they now threaten our most fundamental freedoms.
One can’t help but wonder whether support for that particular corruption is what keeps folks from investigating smaller stories, like Gallison’s, when they could actually make a difference. Doing so might inspire the public to ask itself whether we can really trust these very same people to put together government programs that take our money, buy off our neighbors, and tell us all how to live.