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My Brush with Political Corruption

My hard work during the election campaign paid off. I was rewarded with a position on our local constituency board, along with 25 other active party members. There was a local internal election to vote me in. A fellow named Julian engineered this slate and its rubber stamp election.

Julian was the party candidate in the last election. Even though we lost the election, Julian was still involved in party affairs, hoping for a comeback. During the election, I spent a few days with Julian doing door-to-door canvassing. He was a very affable fellow. He handled these door visits very professionally, even with people not voting our way. I guess he liked me enough to put me on his local slate.

The political meetings were interesting. Being around Julian was part of the attraction. He exuded power in a friendly way. And I liked the people I was making connections with.

About a year after my appointment, Julian and I had a little social time.

“Dave, how’s your business going?”

“Well, I got enough business last year to expand. I just hired a new employee.”

“Great! Did you apply for that grant to get some funding to subsidize new hires?”

“I got the package for the grant. But, man, it was so long. Maybe 12 pages. I didn’t see much sense in applying when the odds don’t look good to get this grant.”

“That’s too bad, Dave.”

A couple of days later, a fellow named Garry cold-called me:

“I help businesses get the grant money. I do all the paperwork. I get 15%. If no money comes in, you don’t have to pay.”

I had nothing to lose. So Garry came to my office for an hour-long interview. Garry was small and about 60 years old. He wore an old suit. Not an impressive man by any means.

As someone who was going to “johnwayne” my way into the business world, I had a little contempt for people like Garry, who claimed to be an expert in filling out government forms. Now there’s a mover and shaker, if we ever saw one, right?

Garry came back a couple of days later with the filled-in forms. I didn’t see any special magic to his form filling technique. I signed where I was supposed to sign. Three weeks later, a $5,000 check came from the government. I sent Garry a check for $750.

Garry got $750 for maybe a day’s work. I got $4,250 for doing almost nothing.

A year later, I hired another employee. I called Garry, and he got a similar grant for me again. I paid him and never saw him after that.

Maybe a year later, my politics had me working with another fellow who was the accounting controller for a mid-sized company. Eventually we got around to talking about the same job-creation grant. It seemed his company got about $150,000 in grants for hiring new employees. He said the company also donated $30,000 to our political party. This company had about 100 employees, which meant a natural attrition rate. It did not create any new jobs. But getting $150,000 for a $30,000 investment was not a bad return! I could clearly connect the corruption in this case.

Twenty years later, I was using the same story to illustrate how political parties help their volunteers and donors. While writing this story, I finally connected the dots. I, too, was part of the scam of the job-creation grants. I’m 95% sure the scam went like this:

Garry was a long-term party member. He was a good political worker but never rose that high. He knew Julian and many other higher-ranking party members. This “jobs creation” program was mostly designed to give taxpayers’ money to partisan businesses. Garry was an agent to ensure much of this money did go to these businesses.

When Julian heard my plight, he got Garry to cold-call me with his nothing-to-lose offer. But Garry already knew he couldn’t lose: as long as he filled out the forms reasonably well, his recommendation to give his clients a grant was going to be accepted. The government workers who were overseeing the program knew that most of Garry’s clients were from the party. They had orders to approve Garry’s work.

Garry had a nice little business going for him in the few years this program ran. Since these clients were party members, it was easy for him to hustle up this business. People like Julian funneled clients his way.

I suspect that the forms were unnecessarily long to discourage non-partisan businesses from applying. A business needed someone like Garry to get this money, but not for his form-filling expertise.

In my discussions with Julian and Garry, there was never any mention of politics somehow being involved. I was just too naïve to see the corruption at the time.

So I—well, actually my business corporation—got $8,500 for doing very little. With or without the grant, I was going to hire these two employees. But was it really that easy money? Had I not put the time into politics, that grant would have been unattainable for me.

Oooh, that sounds like I am now trying to justify that $8,500. While the rest of you were watching hockey games or attending church, I was saving the country by attending political meetings, trying to keep the “right” party in power—as a volunteer. What’s wrong with this little reward?

Sorry, dear readers, I won’t be giving the $8500 back. And because my business was a little profitable, I did pay corporate taxes on my windfall. But you can be assured that I spent a few more years in politics and did not get any further funds. At least, I think not.

This particular program was brilliant in its design. The handouts were not large enough for partisans to get rich, yet significant enough to acknowledge the work/funds they had put into the party. Other partisans could see a significant reward was possible in the future. The long-serving party hack, Garry, made a good income for a few years of work that was really not that difficult. And other partisans would see the party does take care of its most loyal servants. And there was little chance an investigative journalist would have exposed this subtle corruption: the paperwork was in place so that money went to new jobs. In fact, the government openly advertised this program, knowing full well that partisan businesses would get most of the money.

The significance of this story is that political parties need to find ways to reward their donors and volunteers with government money—and show these rewards. This helps attract donors and volunteers to keep the election machine oiled and greased.

As long as we insist on political parties, these kinds of programs will continue to happen.

It’s time for another way.

Published on Medium 2021

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