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Gaming the system


Vince Orza June 18th, 2009

Have you noticed the ever-increasing visibility of elected officials using taxpayer dollars to tell you all the great things they are doing for us? Drive down a county road, and you'll likely see ...

Have you noticed the ever-increasing visibility of elected officials using taxpayer dollars to tell you all the great things they are doing for us?

Drive down a county road, and you'll likely see a sign telling you County Commissioner So-and-So was responsible for the new road or bridge. Oh really? I have always assumed those new roads and bridges were paid for with our tax dollars. I never realized county commissioners were spending their own money on those bridges. Oh wait, they're not. They are spending our money, and we really don't need them to spend more of our money paying for signs with their names big and bold, telling us they are doing their jobs. That's what they get paid for.

Then there's the over-100-page "Unclaimed Property Fund" newspaper insert we seem to see once or twice a year. Of course, right there on the front page is lovely, full color photograph and big bold headline: A Message From Scott Meacham, Oklahoma State Treasurer.

The treasurer tells us Oklahoma businesses bring unclaimed cash, rebates, paychecks, royalties, stock and bonds to his office. Meacham wants us to know because it is, after all, our money and we should claim it "¦ because we may have a treasure just waiting to us. The treasurer says it's his job to get the money to its rightful owners. And, best of all, his "service" is always free. Wait " free? I'm pretty sure we pay taxes to support his office. Thus, it's not free to us!

By the way, there's always a big "Thank you, Scott Meacham" at the bottom of that picture. Seems to me the person who got something for free was Scott Meacham " he got a big, color photograph and his name (twice) in front of voters across the state without having to pay a dime. I'd be curious to know the cost of production and insertion in newspapers across the state. Plus, newspaper ads in color are much more expensive than black and white. The treasurer's insert isn't color throughout, just the front photo of Meacham.

Lottery commercials are another way to spend taxpayer money for political gain. You've probably noticed lottery commercials. I'm not a big fan of the lottery, but while it hasn't performed as promised, it has clearly generated new money for education.

No elected official wants to do the commercial pointing out the lottery never generated the $300 million a year we were promised, and you sure won't see one telling you the downside of the increased availability of gambling and lotteries.

There should be a difference between a public service announcement or mailing and a political commercial. Sadly, more and more, there is not. Elected officials have learned to game the system. It's not illegal or immoral, but it is compromising. Meacham has been good as our treasurer, and you really can't blame him for taking full advantage of the system. Elected officials know getting re-elected or elected to another office is job No. 1.

Nothing I've described will destroy the democracy "¦ yet. However, as more and more politicians learn to game the system, it can and likely will further impact voter cynicism and distrust. That keeps good and successful people from running for office. And that certainly could destroy the democracy.

Orza, a former gubernatorial candidate, is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.

 
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