Whitecaps

Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Name:
Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Has Idaho Hit the Big Time?

Has Idaho finally hit the big time when it comes to public corruption? Is it now a "pay-for-play" state?

Could be.

Suppose a developer wants to do a major project that requires state, county, or local approvals. In its simplest form, the developer would simply bribe key decision-makers in the government. Voila! Approvals granted, almost no questions asked, no particularly pesky on-site compliance inspections.

Or suppose a contractor wants a very lucrative contract but doesn't want to risk losing out to a competitor? Again, no problem. Simply bribe those same key decision-makers in the government. Poof! A no-bid contract (known in federal procurement circles as a sole-source contract) is awarded. Sole-source contracts can be in the public interest. Often, they are not. The competitive bidding process helps identify contractors who are capable of doing the job and meeting the statement of work requirements. It should eliminate unqualified bidders, and it allows the government to reject bidders who have defaulted on previous contracts. No honest government decision-maker would even think of awarding a sole-source contract to an applicant who had "stiffed" the agency on a previous agreement. Competitive bidding helps keep cost to taxpayers down and quality up.

Even in Idaho outright bribery is illegal, so some cleverness and subterfuge is necessary. Bribery is such a nasty word. Incidentally, if the influence payment is made before the decision, its a bribe for future service. If the influence payment comes after the decision, it's a gratuity for services rendered. Either way, it's illegal.

The influence payment need not be cash, though that is by far the easiest way to pay off dirty public officials. It can be more subtle. It may mean hiring the decision-maker to use his or her own business to deliver a product or service to the bribe or gratuity grantor. It may mean hiring a close relative of the decision-maker. Regardless, it's a payoff at the front end or the back end for having made a decision with a positive financial outcome for both parties guaranteed.

In the vernacular of contract kickbacks, it's known euphemistically as "pay-for-play" or "play-to-pay." If you or your company want to receive big, government-controlled or government-influenced contracts, cough up those campaign donations to sympathetic incumbents or candidates. Make sure your company's employees donate to your selected candidate as well. Don't worry if the employees can't afford it; you're going to reimbuse them through such vehicles as inflated salaries or wages, year-end bonuses, performance awards, etc. The use of campaign contributions as payoffs are often called "legal bribery" because it is difficult, though by no means impossible, to associate the otherwise legal contributions with specific criminal intent.

There's an even more subtle and lucrative way to pay off a decision-maker. Make a "voluntary donation" to the decision-maker's favorite charity, foundation, or other public cause.

Suppose a key decision-maker or body of decision-makers has publicly endorsed a very high visibility public project, one that will assure the decision-makers' names are prominently displayed on the bronze plaque at the project's front door. The agreement between the offerer and the acceptor is made, and the approvals are granted or contracts awarded to the pre-determined winner(s).

Then after the project is underway and after a suitable amount of time has passed, the pre-determined winner(s) make a ceremonial donation back to the decision-maker's identified cause. This has an additional benefit for the donor. If the decision-maker's "favorite cause" is a charitable organization, some or all of the kickback donation is tax-deductible. Thus part of the bribe or gratuity is returned to the payor by the governments (federal and state) in the form of a tax refund. Illegal? Sure, but only after the scheme is unmasked.

In these contract kickback schemes, the general public loses because its tax dollars or donations it made to what it believed was a legitimately good cause may have been spent on a substandard project. The public officials did not fulfill their obligation to represent all constituents equally or fairly. Neither did those officials ensure that public projects were built safely and in compliance with all public safety laws and regulations.

The general public loses in other ways.

First, those contractors and developers who pay-to-play will have a competitive advantage over honest competitors. This inevitably discourages the honest ones from bidding when competitive bidding is actually used. They know the fix is in. It discourages honest developers, because the dishonest ones get benefits not available to the honest ones, benefits that increase profitability. This ultimately drives up the cost of publicly-funded projects. Taxpayers pay more and get less.

Second, the public eventually realizes it can no longer trust the decision-makers to make decisions in the public interest. This recognition discourages honest citizens from running for public office. It encourages dishonest candidates to run for office. Those candidates are the ones willing to "buy" their office with the tainted money of their benefactors. In return, they do their benefactor's bidding once they are in office.

There is no simple solution to curing the pay-to-play malignancy. As long as public officials are willing to sell out their personal integrity for money or public acclaim, pay-for-play will go on. As long as traditional watchdogs such as the newspapers are unwilling to spend the very considerable time and effort necessary to dig out and report the varieties of pay-to-play, as long as local agencies are unwilling to aggresively investigate and prosecute the criminal side of pay-for-play, and as long as legislators are the recipients of the largesse, the condition will worsen rather than improve.

Welcome to Idaho.

20 Comments:

Blogger DanG said...

Bill, the space between the lines you've written is very clear, at least to anyone who's watched this one television show that runs on Channel 19 in here CDA....

If corruption in government really worked, then obviously we'd never know about it. But we do. My question to you is: how do these assholes get caught?

(Sorry for using the word "asshole" but anyone who abuses the public trust and public money in such manner deserves a special label.)

8:18 AM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

DanG,

Thanks for the comment (and by the way, the word is perfectly appropriate).

They, the crooks, are caught when the many honest people in the government agency or the companies involved get fed up and provide information that ultimately exposes the wrongdoing. They're often called "sources" by federal law enforcement agencies. I say "federal" because the local law enforcement agencies are often beholden to local officials (AKA: the crooks) in one way or another. Often the feds will work with a source to protect the source's identity if the source wishes to remain unidentified. If the information the source has and wants to offer is known only to a few persons or maybe only to the crooks and the source, it takes considerable finesse to protect the person's identity. But it can be and is done regularly.

8:30 AM, April 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is good information, but aren't you libeling or slandering someone here?

1:31 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for reading and commenting. I don't think so since no one is identifiable in the post. If you think otherwise, please let me know. Thanks again.

2:45 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

The clarity of which you are writing is indeed there. However, in answering as to how they get caught would seem to be the problem. Are the offenses of which you speak on the Federal leve? If so how would we get them involved?

If not, what recourse is there? I think we would all agree approching the locals would be suicide.

2:58 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Dogwalkmusings,

Great comment and questions. Before a federal agency would likely get involved, there needs to be a federal nexus, probable cause to believe a serious violation of federal law has occurred. I said "serious", because the federal agencies are stretched very thin here, and investigations require significant manpower commitments. The feds are not going to set aside major drug investigations, violent federal crimes, and of course their new mission, counterterrorism, without some significant, timely, verifiable information. The best hope of getting the feds involved would be if honest insiders or victims came forward with solid evidence that verified federal crimes like bribery or money laundering were being committed. Sometimes honest people get caught up in these things and think there is no way they can get out without going to jail themselves. They're wrong. Their best hope of extrication is to abandon the crime, go to the feds, and provide useful evidence. That's a difficult choice to make, but it's the right one. In fact, it's the only one.

3:23 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

So what you're saying is the Feds aren't going to touch this. The recourse is getting more and more like you and Dang to become the spokes of the squeaky wheel.

Then you are besmirched by the Spokesman via Huckleberries as is Larry Spencer and the CDA Press.

How does one get more of the concerned (if there is any) public involved?? Not enough read blogs - we probably have the lowest readership of the three.

5:24 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Dogwalkmusings,

No, I'm not saying the feds won't touch it. If they do, you and I will find out at about the same time -- when we read about it in the newspaper or see it on TV. What I am saying, though, is that for them to get involved, they would need a substantial amount of good, solid information from people who have it. There are a lot of federal crimes competing for the resources. The feds have to devote those resources where they have the best chances of success. Success is defined as meeting the objectives of their agencies' strategic plans requird by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. And contrary to what a lot of people might think, I would not have any "inside" information if any agency opens an investigation. As I said before, we'll know if and when we read about it in the newspaper. "Them that know don't say, and them that say don't know."

5:38 PM, April 20, 2007  
Anonymous Conan said...

Bill,

Well done!

The criminals have already seen your post and they are getting frightened. The attacks on the watchdogs and activists will heat up even more now that you have weighed in. That will outrage the innocent insiders and help the Fed's find their informants.

Evil HATES the light. Keep shining yours into the corners of the civic pond that is CDA.

Again, good job man!

6:29 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Conan,

Thanks. Please give 99.9% of your praise to other people, the ones who are willing to dig, print, and patiently explain a complicated subject. (I'll accept 0.1% just 'cause I have an ego, too.) But the fact is, there are a lot of people in the community who are more aware and much better informed because of those others who are committed to making Idaho communities better.

I said it in an earlier comment, but I'll say it again: The ones who will bring any corruption in their communities to a screeching halt are the ones who are trapped inside the corruption meat grinder and want out. They didn't want to be there in the first place. I suspect dirty officials will try to influence or intimidate them to not go to the feds with the information they have.

You used the term "informants" to describe those with inside information. It's a commonly used term, but I'd prefer to call them "cooperating witnesses", CWs. That's not just some social nicety. It's an accurate descriptor of their function. They would be surprised at how much empathy the feds would have for their situation. They would be surprised at how willing the feds would be to help them provide information with dignity, respect, and most important, cover.

Some potential CWs trapped inside the corruption meat grinder may think they only have a little piece of information, that it's not important. The first part may be true: The CW may have only a piece of information. Indeed, it's because of his own non-participation in the crimes that the CW doesn't have the big picture, but what he does have may the the missing piece that lets a good investigative team achieve that "Aha!" moment in the investigation.

It's that the CW doesn't have the big picture, is not voluntarily or materially involved in the crimes, that loosens the hold the dirty public officials purport to have over him. The CW wants out, wants the criminal behavior to go away, and wants to get back to his job just like everyone else. He wants all this other criminal crap to just go away. It can, but he's got to come forward with the information that can make it happen.

If all that sounds overly dramatic, believe me, it's not. Organized crime doesn't appear over night in a community in Idaho or anywhere else. It enters cautiously and tests the community to spot weaknesses and weak people who will be willingly corrupted. It assesses those people for reliability and controllability. It recruits those it can through various mechanisms of control, and it identifies those who pose a strong threat to the success of the criminal enterprise. Then it tries very very hard to discredit and sometimes harm those who pose the greatest threat to the enterprise's survival. This all happens over time, not overnight. By the time the community awakens to the real hold the criminal entrepreneurs have on the community, it is much more difficult to combat them. But it's not impossible. It all starts with the first CW, then the second, then the third.

7:49 PM, April 20, 2007  
Anonymous Chuck Cline said...

All of this could be good verbage if and only if this is all true. If it is you must have names and places. It cannot be libel or slander if it is true, besides public officials have a problem of being open to public comment.

Again, I say if you are positive in what you say be up front, by inuendo and heresay you are no different than those you accuse.

I have no problem in putting names and position to local graft. I am fighting it in Nez Perce County.

Let us know what you know there are those with enough moxie to take it forward and not just blustery words in a BLOG.

10:06 PM, April 20, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Chuck Cline,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

If you have specific information about local graft in Nez Perce County, I urge you to decide how and to whom the information you have should be presented. That's what I have tried to do.

7:29 AM, April 21, 2007  
Anonymous Conan said...

Bill -

I agree that many deserve kudos. Your post is the "point of the spear" though and has frightened the PTB in a way none of the others efforts have. As they scurry about learning (for the first time) what the laws actually are they discover how many they have broken. What, until your post, they didn't realize was the extent of the criminality and the impact that could have on their lives. Over the next few weeks watch for odd resignations and quiet moves.

Conan

7:46 AM, April 21, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Conan,

Thank you.

And now I have yet another opportunity to demonstrate my ignorance. What does PTB stand for?

7:56 AM, April 21, 2007  
Anonymous Conan said...

PTB = "Powers That Be"

3:38 PM, April 21, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Conan,

Oh. Thanks.

5:36 PM, April 21, 2007  
Anonymous steve d said...

steve d
dont they just start another non profit corporation that answers to the city council but is held accountable to no one like the parks foundation?

6:57 AM, April 22, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

steve d,

I'm not sure I understand your question clearly. The Coeur d'Alene Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization under the Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Any 501(c)(3) that fails to comply with the applicable provisions of the IR Code is at risk of losing its nonprofit status. If the 501(c)(3) was established specifically to further an illegal act, or if it is being used to cover up or further a crime, there could be more severe penalties. It depends on the specific facts.

If this didn't exactly answer your question, could you please clarify it and I'll try again.

9:24 AM, April 22, 2007  
Blogger E. H. said...

Funny stuff. I think the Prince Report laid it out pretty clearly for the feds, yet no charges were filed even though the report connected the dots for them. The attorneys involved just recently walked from the Idaho Bar probe with a firm, "please oh pretty please, don't do it again." Idaho is unquestioningly repub in what has become a questioning world. The current feds must be under orders to keep hand off a state with such blind faith. A few years back a Moscow attorney was being questioned for confirmation by the Idaho Senate, for a place on the Idaho Board of Education. He was literally asked why he had contributed to a democratic candidate. He said that he was told he had to or he would lose the work he got from the State of Idaho. He said that under oath. It was reported in the papers. Yet, no editor or reported felt it was newsworthy beyond the brief mention. He refused to tell who the person was that had demanded the campaign contribution. Oh, well, the committee said that under such circumstances a misguided contribution was understandable. He was confirmed. I wrote to him and told him that not only did I know the name of the person who had threatened him, but that I had been given the same threat, over breakfast no less. Only I didn't contribute. He commended me, but he still had work from the state. I think it is called a "shake down." Nobody in authority cares, it is everyday business. Most who do care are too afraid to say anything for fear of losing business. I call it "Feardom".

3:12 AM, April 23, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

E.H.,

Thanks for the insightful comment. As we're seeing now with the Gonzo case back in DC (as if we didn't learn from Nixon and Mitchell), there are people who are not above misusing the US Department of Justice for political purposes. It gets very frustrating for the worker bees who want to do their job, only to have a good investigation squelched by some hack. But, we've got to keep trying to clean up the sewer.

7:42 AM, April 23, 2007  

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