by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you’ve read Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out or any one of Don Carrington’s various chronicles of Carolina corruption, you might see how Raleigh and our nation’s capital might benefit from following the lead of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The latest Bloomberg Businessweek explains.
[P]utting crooked pols away and spreading power around wasn’t enough to rehab Cuyahoga’s reputation. To keep the next generation of officials from picking up where Dimora and Russo left off, companies in the county had to stop thinking of bribery and corruption as a normal part of doing business with Cuyahoga. The problem “wasn’t just the people who were doing wrong,” says U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach. “When you have a culture of shakedowns and scams at this level, there’s also a culture of silence—where when somebody tries to shake you down, even if you don’t go along, you don’t say anything. Why? Because you’re under the impression this is the way things are done.”
Dettelbach joined with the Cleveland Clinic, the county’s largest employer, to form the Northeast Ohio Business Ethics Coalition. Since 2010, 907 companies—including Aflac (AFL), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Honeywell (HON), and Otis Elevator (UTX)—have signed its 262-word pledge. “This organization rejects corruption and unethical conduct in its business affairs and urges others to do the same,” it concludes. “We believe that it is important both to speak out against such conduct and to lead by example.” All 59 municipalities in the county have joined in with a pledge of their own, signing an agreement not to poach jobs and employers from one another. “There’s a sense of relief in the community that the corruption has been eliminated and those responsible for it were held accountable,” says former Ohio Governor George Voinovich, who was once Cleveland’s mayor. “The crooks are gone.”
County leaders are hopeful the changes will help wash away the past and attract new business. “It’s very clear that there’s a good feeling about how the government is working, certainly on the ethics,” says Dave Rowan, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief legal officer. Stuart Garson, a Cleveland lawyer who replaced Dimora as county Democratic Party chairman, says he’s mindful that “the potential for mischief is always there. But it’s so much more difficult now.”