Professionalism/Pamela Davis and Operation Board Games
Pamela Davis and Operation Board Games
In 1988, Pamela Davis became President and CEO of Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois. Under her leadership, the hospital has grown by 164%. As part of this expansion, Davis requested the construction of a new medical office building. In 2003, Davis submitted the project for review by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Shortly before her meeting with the board, Davis received a phone call at her home from Nicholas Hurtgen, a managing director at Bear Stearns. Hurtgen told her to pull the project from review, explaining that she needed to consult Bear Stearns for advice before the project would get approved. Davis did not believe Hurtgen and went forward with the board meeting. The project was summarily rejected. After the board meeting, Jacob Kiferbaum of Kiferbaum Construction told her that the project would not get approved until Davis formed a contract with his company. Identifying extortion, Davis refused to play along: "My inner voice - my instincts - were screaming and shouting that this was not something I could engage in."
Davis contacted the FBI, who agreed to monitor a meeting between her, Hurtgens, Kiferbaum, and the vice chairman of the planning board, Stuart Levine. At the meeting, the men were very clear about their extortion attempt. The FBI immediately launched an investigation with Davis as the chief asset: Operation Board Games. As a result, all three men were convicted, revealing a trail of corruption which led all the way to the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.
Rod Blagojevich, elected Governor in 2003, was found guilty in 2011 as part of Operation Board Games. He was charged with corruption relating to hospital shakedowns and the attempted sale of President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. After the seat became vacant, Blagojevich viewed his responsibility to name a new Senator as an asset. He was interested in selling the seat in exchange for a political promotion to a Presidential Cabinet position, and repeatedly threatened during negotiations that if he wasn't going to get anything he would elect himself as Senator.
During Blagojevich's trial, prosecutors looked for a clear motive. In the eye of the public, Blagojevich was an affluent state Governor with a wife and daughters. However, evidence shown at his trial gave a different perspective. Blagojevich believed he was broke: "[my daughter] is going to college in six years, and we can't afford it." But, between 2002 to 2008, Rod and Patti Blagojevich spent $400,000 on designer clothing and $600,000 on mortgages and rentals.
It seems that the reality is far different from Blagojevich's characterization. “The governor did not address the central issue, which is the abuse of power,” then Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. “That is really the essence of the charges against him and he’ll have to address them in the Illinois Senate.” Blagojevich was willing to use his position for personal gain outside the confines of the law. Like many others in Chicago's corrupt system, Blagojevich took advantage of the lack of professionalism around him.
Patrick Magoon has been the CEO of a children's hospital in Chicago since 1997. In 2008, he asked Governor Blagojevich to approve a $10 million rate increase to raise the hospital's medicare funding and improve medical coverage. After receiving approval, Magoon was asked to "keep it quiet." A month later, Magoon received a call from the governor's brother, Robert Blagojevich, requesting a $25,000 donation to Blagojevich's campaign fund. Magoon felt that the donation request was linked to the hospital's rate increase and feared the approval would be rescinded if he did not donate. Magoon stopped taking calls from the Blagojevich brothers in response. Blagojevich was arrested and cast into the national spotlight shortly after.
Magoon acted correctly by not making the donation, however, he evaded the issue even though he felt Blagojevich's actions were wrong. He was suspicious about how Blagojevich handled the rate increase, but it appears that he fell prey to decision avoidance rather than acting and assuming more responsibility. It is unclear what a true professional would do in this situation. The Blagojevich brothers were not explicitly extorting Magoon, unlike in Davis' case. Magoon's primary duty was to his hospital as its CEO, and obtaining the rate increase was necessary for the hospital to expand its programs. He believed his actions were in the best interest of the hospital. However it is not clear whether he had a responsibility to the other citizens of Chicago and should have taken further action.
"Pay to Play" and Other Chicago Corruption
Four of the last seven Illinois governors have been convicted of corruption. Chicago itself has maintained a history of corruption for decades. Since 1976, the federal district including Chicago has had the highest number of public corruption convictions (1531) in the United States, even surpassing the districts which include Los Angeles (1275) and New York City (1202).
George Ryan, the Republican governor immediately before Blagojevich, went to prison for racketeering, tax fraud, and other charges. Ryan's crimes were discovered during an eight year federal investigation named Operation Safe Road that led to the conviction of seventy-five people for corrupt activity. The pay to play system in Chicago included people at all levels of government in both parties. Its widespread nature existed because of a normalization of immoral behavior deviant from what is otherwise accepted.
Corruption has played a part in Chicago politics for decades. The extreme normalization of deviance leads some people to accept, ignore, or even take part in corruption for personal benefit. It is easier for many to ignore problems than to face them. On an individual level, it is as simple as ignoring wrongs that don't have personal consequences. But when a culture follows these principles, it is difficult to change. One individual isn't enough to change an entire culture, but in leading by example, one person can inspire many others. It takes a conscious effort by many to change a culture.
Taking the initiative to blow the whistle is a difficult decision for professionals. Not only could it cost a job, but whistleblowers can even be shunned by their industry. Situations in which a professional might go public with a complaint are rarely as clear cut as the Davis case. These situations tend to be unclear from the professional's perspective. In industry, blowing the whistle can result in a loss of production and reputation. General opacity combined with the penalties of being wrong makes ensuring safety a difficult job for the professional. Refer to the chapters about NSA corruption and the IRS Whistleblower Program for analysis on two specific cases involving whistleblowing.
To generalize this, blowing the whistle is a decision to defy social norms. Even the word "whistleblower" brings up imagery of an individual making a loud noise while others are quieter. Whistleblowers put their reputation on the line because they feel a responsibility to stop wrong situations, even if they are not the cause. A whistleblower is not a professional by default, but a professional should be able to blow the whistle if the situation calls for it.
Positions of power of are subject to the type of abuse Lt. Governor Quinn spoke about, but immoral behavior on any scale is not automatic. There are many factors that allow corruption to become a widespread practice. One is the acceptance of immoral behavior as the norm. Another is the willingness of citizens to become bystanders and shift their responsibility to other groups. A component of this bystander effect is the kind of decision avoidance employed by Magoon which kicks the can down the road. The corollary to these factors is action. A single person acting to blow the whistle can expose an entire administration. This requires leadership and a professional will to stick out one's neck. Pamela Davis took this to heart saying "I firmly believe that all of us, as responsible citizens, must take a stand against corruption or we will lose the very freedoms that make America a strong and wonderful country." Professionalism in this case is having the courage to do what Pamela Davis did. Perhaps if there were more people like Pamela Davis in Chicago, there would never have been a pay to play system.
- , Nina Burleigh. "Whistle-blower". January 2009.
- , ABC News. "Person of the Week: Blago Whistleblower". January 2009.
- , Bob Secter & Jeff Coen. "Blagojevich on guilty verdict: 'I, frankly, am stunned'". June 2011.
- , New York Times. "From the Complaint: 'You Just Don't Give It Away for Nothing'". December 2008.
- , Natasha Korecki & Sarah Ostman. "Blagojevich's $400,000 shopping spree". July 2010.
- , Susan Saulny. "Illinois House Impeaches Governor". The New York Times. Page A9. Jan 2009.
- , Fox News. "Rod Blagojevich Retrial Continues with Patrick Magoon's Testimony". May 2011.
- , Dick Simpson et al. Chicago and Illinois, Leading the Pack in Corruption. February 2012.
- , The US Department of Justice US Attorney Office for the Northern District of Illinois. "Operation Safe Road".
- , Carola Hoyos. "The whistleblowers club". September 2012.