In the 1980’s when I started out on my career in Philadelphia’s real estate there was lot of talk about a certain Mr. Green. He was a man of many talents who knew how to get things done. It seemed impossible that one man could be so many places. I soon discovered he was not a single man but one member of a prolific family.
Every law firm seemed to have a Mr. Green for a partner. Need to get out of a traffic ticket no problem your attorney would say “We’ll send Mr. Green to court.” Talk to a developer about when he was getting his building permit, no problem Mr. Green was going down to License and Inspections this afternoon. Ask a contractor how he managed to get the street closed down on a Tuesday afternoon so you would not have to pay triple time over the weekend for the crane, he’d say Mr. Green had a talk with the patrol sergeant.
I used to go looking for Mr. Green to get the scoop directly from the source, the horse’s mouth so to speak. While talented, he was a modest man. These were the days before cell phones. Everybody had an office with a receptionist up front taking messages, yet he was never listed on any law firm directory. I never took a developers lunch with him or saw his name mentioned on a construction conference attendance sheet.
When I look back at those days it is literally painful to see how naïve I was. Mr. Green was of course a stack of dead presidents. Philadelphia was a very different city then; corruption was not just institutional, it was an inherited birthright. The mafia were serious men doing serious business old school style you only heard their names in news headlines, usually posthumously. They were a major force, unlike today’s blow dry wannabes, relegated to minor scams and blown burglaries. The law was blurry and everybody and every city department had their hands out. The only way to oil the bureaucratic machine was with cash.
Today, business and the city departments themselves operate like normal corporate America in their dealings. Whether it’s new mores or just modern technology it’s been well over a decade since I have been told Mr. Green was taking care of it.
However, Mr. Green is alive and raking the cash in like never before. Today, he is the power broker, the political fund-raiser, and the government affairs or communications firm. Mostly you and I know him as the lobbyist. Long gone are the brown paper bags full of cash; today it’s political donations. In our 2012 Pennsylvania county commissioners’ and state senatorial election, campaigns have cost over a million dollars. Why so much is spent to win an $80,000 a year job is for another story. The fact is the politicians need it and corporations are willing to contribute it as long as Mr. Green is handling the strings attached to the largess.
If you want your engineering firm to get a city or state contract, hire Mr. Green. He will make sure you are the most qualified company in the commonwealth. Your neighbor’s gas drilling firm did a quick calculation based on Mr. Green’s advice, of course, and saw the wisdom of spending millions on legislative and gubernatorial campaigns versus tens of millions on cleaner drilling methods or hundreds of millions on taxes.
The list of all of Mr. Green’s fine work would be the size of an old phone book. Companies and interest groups feel they have no choice but to seek out Mr. Green.
What today’s and your grandfather’s Mr. Green have in common is a pathological fear of being in the news or in regular citizens everyday dinner talk. Mr. Green can only be effective in a quiet behind-closed-door kind of way., his efforts buried in arcane and unreadable campaign donation reporting.
Eric and I started RocktheCapital to shine the twin lights of transparency and accountability on our elected officials. It’s time for us to to shine into every corner and look at the Mr. Greens of the world. To expose these unelected men of power who have too much influence over county and state government. While no laws may be broken, it is a crime against democracy for Mr. Green to wield so much quiet power, accountable not to the taxpayer, not to the citizen, but only to his client.
Photo by 401K 2012
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