It was like a curtain parting and catching a glimpse of a backroom filled with politicians – there, sitting in the middle of the hearing, were two of the Governor’s aides testifying and doing their best to wriggle out of the pickle they’d landed in.
A businessman – who’d given $12,000 to the Governor’s campaign – had met with the Governor and his aides and told them bluntly that he’d made his contributions and now wanted to see what he got in return.
What he wanted was a $3 million state contract.
But the Cabinet Secretary who had to approve the contract had told him no.
Which is the reason Governor had called the meeting.
But nothing the Secretary heard in the meeting changed his mind. The contract, he maintained, was a bad deal for the state.
Which didn’t sit well with the donor much at all.
The Governor solved that problem by ordering the Budget Director to take charge of the contract – which meant the Budget Director and not the Secretary would decide what to do.
The Budget Director decided the contract was a good deal and gave the donor what he wanted – but then the unexpected happened: The newspapers got wind of what had happened and the $3 million contract landed on the front pages and the Budget Director and Secretary landed in front of a legislative hearing.
Did that donor really say blunt as a corncob that he’d made contributions and wanted a contract? a legislator asked.
Yes, sir, the Secretary said, He did.
But the Governor says he didn’t hear it?
He was having a side conversation.
Later, did you tell the Governor what he said?
The Secretary was less specific. Well, no, sir… not in a detailed way.
No one asked what ‘not in a detailed way’ meant but the Secretary went on to explain that he felt what the donor had said was inappropriate but since there was no ‘quid pro quo’ he saw no reason to report it to the Governor.
Of course that part about there being ‘no quid pro quo’ sounded odd because the donor got the contract.
But that’s not how the Secretary saw it – and why seems to go back to the Budget Director: The Secretary was arguing the donor got the contract because the Budget Director said it was a good deal – not because he’d given the Governor’s campaign $12,000.
But, then, in the middle of the hearing, backroom politics took another turn and the Secretary announced at the end of this year he wasn’t going to renew the contract that the Budget Director had said was a good deal.
So the contract was a bad deal, then a good deal, then a bad deal again – but never, at any time, was it a quid pro quo.
Years ago Ronald Reagan said, ‘Watching backstage politics is like looking at civilization with its pants down.’ Amen.