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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Red Lights, Cameras, Cash,

One of my business teachers in college said something resembling; there is not a problem you will have in your career that can't be made better by throwing enough money at it. He was trying to impress upon us that we had to use negotiation, tact, diplomacy, and creativity to find a remedy. At the time it seemed profound and powerful.  Since then it has become obvious that often money does not fix things and in the end can cause more problems than it solves.

In a medium sized city in the Midwest the decision was made install red light cameras.  A company that installs and monitors red light cameras hired a lobbyist to convince local authorities to strongly consider using its services. And they did.  Nobody really had any problem with that. 

When somebody ran a red light at the wrong intersection a camera would snap a photo of the license plate, and somebody would send a ticket to the owner of that car.  $95.00 later things were resolved. The company was making some money, the city was making some money, and people were throwing statistics around showing that red light cameras were either a great thing, saving lives, and reducing accidents, or an awful, creeping invasion of privacy, big brother using his vast resources to reach into the lives of innocent people.

The group in favor of red light cameras won the first round.  It was decided that if a little is good, a lot would be great (not really surprising).  And the company gave the lobbyist more money and he tried to convince people to let the same company install and monitor the additional cameras. They did, more were installed, and things were proceeding nicely, for the supporters of red light cameras and the stake holders at the company.

Unfortunately, the second round was won by the people who object to the omnipresent technological demons mounted at the intersections.  They were hooded, and left blinded, shamed examples of government power run amok.

But, that did not end the story, now they are going after the lobbyist. He is a man who has spent a considerable part of his adult life in public service, and has made many friends among local politicians, officials and people in power. Really, an ideal lobbyist, he knows what buttons to push and which people are likely to be swayed.  There is no proof he did anything illegal, but, at least right now he is on the side that lost.

So, Mr. Waltz, it seems that not every problem can be solved with the liberal application of cash. Lobbyists take money from interested parties, provide transportation and care, eventually handing it  another group of people. Then they will say something, casually, and without much emphasis, for example, "oh, by the way the people who gave me that money would like to be able to build a factory by that park, and might need a few of the trees cut down for so they have a place to store the toxic waste. But, they just wanted a deserving soul to have that money, there is no pressure."