THE "Politician Payment Plan."
That's how FBI Special Agent Krista Corr, a 17-year veteran of the Public Corruption Squad at the bureau's Boston office, characterizes the pay-to-play system that operates in the Massachusetts State House and Boston City Hall. Her 32-page affidavit outlines the FBI's case against Democratic state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who was arrested last week on bribery charges. It's a must-read - especially for anyone inclined to vote against Question 1, the ballot measure to repeal the Massachusetts income tax.
According to the FBI, the "Politician Payment Plan" was described to undercover agents by "Associate A," a Boston businessman seeking to acquire a parcel of state-owned land for development. Posing as out-of-state developers, the agents had "asked Associate A whether anyone needed to be paid to obtain their support," the affidavit recounts. "Associate A confirmed that Wilkerson's support was most important and the most expensive: 'The biggest chunk that we gotta worry about is the senator. . . . If she says no, you're [bleeping] dead. If she says yes, you're golden.' " Bribes would also go to two state representatives and a city councilor, according to the FBI.
In return, Wilkerson allegedly threw her weight behind the project, persuading the state agency that owned the land not to lease it to another business and promising to introduce legislation awarding the land directly to the "developers" who had paid her off.
In another episode outlined by the FBI, Wilkerson took bribes in return for pulling strings and pressuring government officials to issue a liquor license to a Roxbury nightclub operator. The pressure included blocking a pay hike for members of the Boston Licensing Board until they approved the license.
Agent Corr's affidavit does more than explain why Wilkerson was surreptitiously photographed stuffing wads of cash into her bra. It shines a light on the ethical squalor that so often masquerades as public service in Massachusetts - a culture of corruption and arrogance that will never be disinfected if Question 1 doesn't pass.
One of the clichés of the tax-repeal opponents is that those of us who support Question 1 are ill-advisedly trying to send a message to Beacon Hill. "Find another way to send a message," advises Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The MetroWest Daily News, editorializing against Question 1, says enacting it would amount to a demand for more efficiency in state government, but "it's hard to imagine that message will come as a surprise to the elected officials of Massachusetts." Peter Meade, the chairman of the No on Question 1 Coalition, doesn't hide his disdain: "If you want to send a message," he snaps, "get a Hallmark card."
But make no mistake: Voting against Question 1 will send a message too.
Vote no on Question 1, and you're flashing a thumbs-up to the political culture that readily indulged and empowered Wilkerson, notwithstanding her long history of ethical and legal violations. Vote no, and you're reassuring the state's political bigs that it's OK with you when they urge voters to re-elect cheats - as Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino urged the reelection of Wilkerson, despite knowing her to be a convicted tax evader and serial violator of campaign-finance laws.
Reject Question 1, and you're asking for more of the same: more of the corruption that unchecked power spawns, more lifetime legislators and uncontested elections, more logrolling with public-employee unions, more patronage positions for unqualified hacks, more voter-passed initiatives that get trashed by the Legislature. Vote no, and you're looking at more irresponsible budgets, more "temporary" tax increases that turn out to be permanent, more hostility to saving money through privatization. Reject Question 1 and you're voting to perpetuate the whole fetid, greed-glutted cult of the public trough - the lavish pensions for "retirees" in their 50s, the paid holidays for public employees only, the jaw-dropping overtime pay, healthcare benefits, and "disability" scams.
You want to send a message? Vote against Question 1 and you'll be another Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, I want some more." And if that is what you want - if the status quo suits you fine, if you're all right with the you-grease-my-palm-and-I'll-grease-yours system of which Dianne Wilkerson is but a symptom - then by by all means vote No.
But you might want to read that affidavit before you do.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.