When most Pennsylvanians think of government, a certain image comes to mind. They imagine policemen protecting us from violent criminals, clerks diligently processing paperwork to administer justice in the courthouse or green-vested highway workers heading out to fill potholes in the spring.
Others think of the continuous struggle of ideologies under the dome in Harrisburg. They imagine their conservative or liberal heroes going into battle on the floor of the House and Senate to win the privilege of steering the Commonwealth on new paths of righteousness.
While these elements of government in action do exist, a closer examination reveals that government is actually an industry, providing profit and investment opportunities to anyone willing to adopt the proper business model. The payoff can be massive. After all, what better way to guarantee a return on investment than by putting the force of law on your side?
There are plenty of experts to help you on your way to success by stepping on the backs of average taxpayers and short-circuiting the lawmaking process. For a price, of course. Two stunning examples of such modern-day privateers have come to light in the past week.
You may remember one Michael S. Long. The former chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and brother-in-law of former Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill wrapped up his career on the inside by pocketing $41,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses in his last two years and collecting a $95,000 severance package on his way out the door.
While Jubelirer and Brightbill were ultimately tossed from office for their big spending ways, Long was a master engineer behind the scenes crafting their "conservative Republican" game plan. Also a prominent member of the Lebanon County Republican Committee, Long was perfectly situated to take on the "liberal Democrats" at every turn.
And you may also recall one Ray Zaborney. As 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann's campaign manager, Zaborney was eager to bash Ed Rendell on any issue whenever a microphone or camera was nearby. In his effort to get a Republican in the governor's office, Zaborney even contacted this writer in an attempt to lend anti-pay raise and reform credence to Swann's campaign after an independent gubernatorial bid was sideswiped by Pennsylvania's ridiculous petitioning requirements.
But the "conservative Republican" ideologies of Long and Zaborney seem to have taken a back seat to personal profit of late.
Long is now lobbying Harrisburg for the environmental and renewable energy causes, working under the guise of a lobbyist for PennFuture, an organization closely tied to Rendell's vision for greening up Pennsylvania. This plan could arguably give Rendell front-runner status for the position of US Department of Energy Secretary in a future Democratic administration in Washington.
Zaborney, who has long been politically linked to Long but is not listed on the state's lobbyist disclosure website, was witnessed this week arriving at a Senator's office in the Capitol "to advocate for a sensible environmental plan for the Commonwealth." When asked to clarify exactly what he was pushing, Zaborney replied, "the Governor's plan."
Widely reported in headlines recently was PennFuture's CEO John Hanger touting a poll claiming that Pennsylvanians support renewable energy. (The same poll likely would have revealed they also support puppies, Mom and apple pie.) A bit less reported was Hanger's odd tirade earlier in the year defending Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinis - both Rendell appointees - on the issue of ethics questions surrounding public dollars and their spouses.
The government business model is pretty straightforward. Place your investment dollars into campaign contributions and/or lobbying fees, make a few public statements revealing whose team you're really on, and soon enough you too can enjoy the profits of social policy backed by the force of law.
Such programs are not only lucrative for recipients of the resultant taxpayer funded state grants, but also for the lawyers who deal with bond issues, the lobbyists who help push them through and of course, supportive incumbent legislators who may receive special consideration from program backers during the next election cycle.
The ability of citizens to influence their government is a good thing. The notions of protecting the environment and making Pennsylvania energy independent are good ideas that markets just might support someday. But if these issues truly warrant the power of governmental force, wouldn't they already be at the top of every legislator's priority list rather than needing a constant barrage of monetary influence to get there?
Rendell, in a recent bizarre twist on morality, claimed that Jesus himself would support some of his bold initiatives that use force to generate the resources required to fund them. One could more easily imagine Jesus, upon glimpsing the pillage and plunder of the common man by the speculators and lobbyists controlling Harrisburg, angrily tossing these moneychangers from our temple.
What Long and Zaborney are doing is not illegal. In fact, it's sanitized by laws currently in place. But let's not be confused about their ideologies. Their former cover under the umbrella of "conservative Republicanism" appears only to be due to its ability to put money in their own pockets.
This is the ideology of self interest, not public interest. For true believers in the causes of conservatism, liberalism, republicanism, democracy and even environmentalism, Long and Zaborney serve as sad case studies in gaming the machinations of government for personal benefit. How many other proponents of the ideology of self interest are currently lurking about in Harrisburg, eager to prey on the common taxpayer in search of personal treasure?
Pennsylvanians would do well to think about this government-as-industry model the next time they find themselves waiting for a crime to be solved, a legal case to be heard or a pothole to be filled.
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to reforming state government in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit www.PACleanSweep.com.