Before working here at Spend Matters, I worked at a huge, glitzy advertising agency, and I have to admit: there were several perks. Massage while waiting for materials to be color corrected on press? No problem. Fancy hotels for press checks, expensive client lunches and dinners, and perhaps splurging for the town car to get to and from the airport? I mean, we were bringing media to the masses. We were the modern Don Drapers. Of course we deserved the keg that was brought in every Friday at 4pm, and then the subsequent cab ride home on the company's tab.
Our society is quite strange, in regards to perks: Advertising: glamorous. Perks are expected. $1 million Wall Street bonuses? We may complain, but what can we actually do? But what happens when it's government officials, including city council members, taking advantage of them? UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, THAT'S OUR MONEY THEY'RE USING.
This article in the Chicago Tribune "exposes" that "While Chicago government and many of its residents struggled with a tough economy, Chicago aldermen continued to pay relatives, public relations consultants and expensive car leases with their city expense accounts, according to a Tribune examination of 2009 records."
Chicago's Aldermen have been using taxpayer dollars to pay their personal rent, lease fancy cars, pay exorbitant fees for marketing and public relations firms to brand themselves, and even just deposit money directly into their own accounts, for "undisclosed expenses." Ald. Eugene Schulter, 47th, who paid more than $24,000 to himself last year, said he was reimbursing himself for office expenses. "I pay all my bills up front because it takes the city such a long time to pay the vendors," Schulter said. "All of that is backed up with original receipts, and the canceled checks -- all that good stuff."
My question in regards to this article is: Are we supposed to open our mouths in horror and be aghast, or even surprised? This type of behavior has been going on for centuries, in both the public and private sector, in every single country, simply because everybody knows they can get away with it.
Yes, of course it irks me that my tax dollars are paying for Alderman to pleasure-cruise around the city in a Lexus (with a driver, nonetheless), or pay rent on offices used by family businesses, or spend $24K on what must be the most cutting-edge gold plated office supplies I can imagine ... but I'm not shocked in the least. In government, the unfortunate truth is that spend matters least when it comes to perks -- and this is even more true for the Chicago and Illinois politicians who are used to keeping the machine running. Up until now, these types of behavior have garnered a slap on the wrist and in some cases, perhaps a year or two of either actual cutbacks (or simply finding a way to better hide these expenses in public financial reports). Still, I have hope the recession and a rising general awareness of government waste may change things. But until there's a set infrastructure to hold government officials accountable and actually provide formidable sanctions for illicit spending, I can't expect these behaviors to change, despite a scolding from the Tribune.
Now, Jason, about that keg on Fridays...
- Sheena Moore