Chicago Politics, Indiana Style
WHAT KIND OF CITY would you have if venal operators could be rewarded with municipal contracts relative to their political contributions — aside of course from the obvious moral degradation?
Let me help answer that. You would have a city that functions to serve arbitrary goals, ones that conform not to citizen priorities but to the scheming of individual campaign contributors.
That means construction of oversized parking garages, half-empty convention centers, superfluous river walks, grandiose mass transit, heavily subsidized stadiums, apartment buildings and hotels, etc. Overall, look for an excess of concrete and rebar overseen by squads of politically connected lawyers, engineers and architects managing stacks of legal and financial filings, permits and licenses all paid fees a third higher than normal.
There will be a public-relations agent, preferably the publisher of the local paper backed up by the Chamber of Commerce, to proclaim all of this “progress.” Taxpayers will be assured that the tens of millions of dollars to be paid by future generations is well spent. There will be full-color architectural renderings (you know the ones, with happy miniature people walking around). Officials from every floor of city hall will be trotted out to describe the civic glory that’s to come.
Finally, you will have to hide that none of this is cost effective, truly functional or sustainable. Citizens must not know that these new facilities do not justifying their cost, that routine maintenance will require additional, yet unannounced, withdrawals from the municipal treasury. And nobody but nobody needs to know that if this or that project goes bankrupt it will be taxpayers, not the developers or nominal owners, who must make the bonds good.
Economists call this “rent-seeking,” that is,engaging in or involving the manipulation of public policy or economic conditions as a strategy for increasing profits.
That’s just a Chicago thing, you say.
Oh really? The political action committees of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, now in charge of Joe Biden’s nationwide infrastructure projects, accepted money from at least 23 companies later awarded more than $33 million in contracts for city projects, according to the Daily Mail and the New York Post.
The newspapers say that the companies, their executives and spouses donated a total of $253,700 to Buttigieg’s campaigns, and won at least $33,280,000 in contracts between 2011 and 2019. In two cases, firms reportedly were awarded contracts by South Bend’s Board of Public Works on the same day they donated to Buttigieg’s campaign.
In Fort Wayne, Councilman Jason Arp, writing in The Indiana Policy Review, documented how contributors to re-election campaigns for Mayor Tom Henry netted more than $126 million in contracts from the city on less than $1 million in contributions.
Before you get all righteous and demand another layer of complex campaign reforms, know that the point here is not that men can be corrupted. That we have long known. The point is that this is perfectly OK with us, the voting public. The political players involved win re-election handily, even get promoted. There is no outcry from the editorial pages. The courts are unconcerned.
This is so even though the cognizant understand that such corruption caps growth and discourages investment. If we were serious about economic development, breaking up these pay-to-play games by tossing out the office-holders at the table would be the first step.
We do not appear to be serious. — tcl