To the best of my knowledge, no person, corporation, organization or political party officially endorses waste or fraud as a business practice or political platform. Yet this vast black hole continues to rotate and thrive around the twin laws of political physics: corruption and inertia.
Pennsylvania’s political universe and economic marketplace are populated by hordes of parasites who comfortably nest within the major political parties and feed on their host: the hostage taxpayer. They gain access through campaign contributions, blood lineage, deception, patronage, gifts, trips and insider tips.
State sponsored abuse often happens in broad daylight. Political corruption is the original “flash mob” gone wild. It seems like corruption has become the forth branch of government.
Waste and fraud are smothering political and economic competition. The marketplace is stifled by crony capitalism which is an outgrowth of political decay. We can not jump-start competition when consumers and taxpayers do not believe that there are fair rules of engagement or objective referees with enforcement powers.
Government is also constructed to be a barrier to predatory practices that target consumers. But how aggressive have politicians been in dealing with insider trading, mortgage packaging or corporate fraud?
Rules are not meant to be broken. And complaining in isolation is not a strategy. So, how do we confront waste and fraud and cultivate a culture of accountability?
There are numerous civic and consumer tools available to citizens. But based on voter turnout and consumer addictions, most Pennsylvanians limit their personal oversight to voting for an “American Idol” or blaming Bush, Obama and the Chinese for pot holes, property taxes and salmonella.
Looking the other way when political corruption crosses the street is to aid and abet a corroded system. Our apathy allows the status quo to flourish. To change the system we must be engaged and call out local and state politicians through regular phone calls, monthly town hall meetings and personal letters to the editor.
There is no excuse for failing to vote. The best tool to defang the political Draculas draining your wallet is to expose them. If you can drive to bingo in a blizzard, endure Black Friday or camp out in a sports bar, you can vote twice a year, and hand a pink slip to your elected employees.
By the same token, consumer fraud corrupts the marketplace and contributes to political malaise. Folks also need to take an active role in identifying consumer corruption. Deflecting or failing to report insurance, tax and welfare fraud is to facilitate a crime.
You don’t have to be a vigilante or Superman. Actually, there is something you can do without surrendering the comfort of your Lazy-Boy: Pick up the phone!
Most states sponsor programs or departments that investigate abuse, fraud and waste. Pennsylvania maintains several offices for consumers and taxpayers to report fraud and waste. Some states even reward whistle blowers.
The Auditor General’s Office of Taxpayer Advocate provides a hotline: #1-800-922-8477. The Advocate does not offer financial rewards, but asks, “If you know of or suspect waste, fraud or abuse in a state program, agency or other endeavor, please contact the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.”
The Attorney General has several outlets including hotlines for Consumer Protection: #1-800-441-2555, Elder Abuse: #1-866-623-2137, and Health Care: #1-877-888-4877.
The Department of Revenue also enlists citizens to report fraud to a Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate: (717)-772-9347. The Department allows for anonymous tips, but “does not offer monetary rewards for reporting tax evasion crimes.”
Times have changed.
We are a consumer society and not a competitive culture. Political waste and consumer fraud are part of a larger problem afflicting a self- indulgent nation content to have others do their leg work. If we are serious about changing Pennsylvania’s political and economic physiology, than we all have to play an active role in arresting corruption.
We will also need to recalibrate and reexamine our statutory tool box. We should evaluate successful methods from other states for combatting waste and fraud, and then actually deploy Best Management Practices.
We can also enhance and strengthen enforcement capabilities. For example, we should implement increased sentencing guidelines for fraud offenses, facilitate better data sharing and interagency cooperation, increase surety bonds for contractors, enhance and expand overpayment recovery efforts, and create a permanent Public Integrity Commission.
Preventing political waste and consumer fraud requires a sustained effort and voter engagement. But we also need a “shock and awe strategy” to get the attention of political deadbeats and scam artists. We need to take off the kid gloves and start sending “white collar criminals” to big-boy prison. There’s nothing like a couple of terms at a maximum security prison to turn a “white collar criminal” into a political reformer.
Photo by SpecialKRB
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