Years ago when I was still worked full-time in risk management, I awoke to find one of my biggest clients on the front page of the daily Portland newspaper. It was not good news. Michael Mooney, the president of Lewis and Clark College, had been caught red-handed misappropriating endowment funds for his own person gain.
Mooney had invested quite a bit of his own money into an Idaho startup that promised to convert waste oil into diesel fuel. The company was never able to deliver on its promises, however. When it became obvious that it was going to be a financial loser, Mooney arranged for the college to secretly “loan” the Idaho startup $10 million in order for investors to recoup their losses. The company paid out dividends, waited a short while, and then filed for bankruptcy, leaving the college in the lurch.
The pool of money Mooney misappropriated had nothing to do with my company, but it was decided that we would do a quick audit of the separate college finances we were in charge of anyway. That way if anyone asked later we could present the crossed t’s and dotes i’s.
“Do the audit quick,” said our CFO, “before his other transgressions come out.” I thought this was an odd thing for him to say, and I asked him about it. Did he have an inside source on the board of trustees? Was there some salacious detail he was aware of that I had yet to hear? Why was he so sure that Mooney’s hand would be caught in other cookie jars? “Because,” he patiently explained to me, “the kind of person that steals $10 million dollars from the college he is entrusted to protect isn’t the kind of person who only ever bothers to do it once.” He was right, of course. More shoes did drop, and Mooney was forced to resign.
To this day, that conversation with our CFO remains one of the formative moments in my development as a risk manager. It colors how I think about scandals, as well as corporate and government malfeasance. Which is why I thought about my old CFO this morning when I read the most recent news about New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.
As I’m sure you all remember, Weiner was the congress critter who was forced to resign after sending inappropriate images of himself to women who hadn’t asked him to do so. So color me not-surprised to find out that a few weeks after announcing his bid for mayor, he’s been caught doing the exact same thing. Oh wait, strike that – it turns out he’s been caught doing something far worse:
“[An anonymous girl] was lured by Anthony Weiner post scandal via Facebook. They had a relationship for 6 months and she believed they were in love. Anthony Weiner like a true sex predator promised Anonymous many things like a job at Politico and a condo in Chicago (a place they could meet up and have sex).”
His MO and constituency are very different, of course, but at the end of the day the Anthony Weiner story is the same as the Herman Cain story. In both cases, the press treats the candidates’ actions as sexual dalliances. But they’re actually much worse. Cain took advantage of people he held power over, and so did Weiner. Promising a 22 year-old sweet young thing a job at Politico in exchange for favors is pretty much the classic, old-school definition of sexual harassment. What I wrote about Cain back in 2011 holds true for Weiner today:
“The media treats sexual harassment cases similarly to the way they treat stories about secret mistresses. After all, it’s the sex that sells the story, right? The important thing for the cable news networks is, “Somebody Famous is Boinking Someone They Shouldn’t,” along with, “Is the Other Woman Hot and Can We Google a Sexy Photo of Her?”
But sexual harassment isn’t the same as infidelity. Sexual harassment, at the end of the day, is about the abuse of power. What’s more, it’s about a particularly denigrating and malicious abuse of power. I would go so far as to say that if someone has a pattern of perpetrating sexual harassment, he is the last person you want in power over others – and you should vote accordingly.”
Josh Marshall thinks this is the end of Weiner’s career. I honestly don’t know why. After all, he isn’t doing anything he hasn’t done before and just last week he was leading in the polls. Sure, Cain didn’t win the presidential primaries, but he was never going to win regardless of what scandals befell him. Weiner was and is a frontrunner.
I can pretty sadly predict much of what will happen in the coming days. Weiner and his people will make all the appropriate apologies and will do so as each new show drops. Weiner’s supporters will claim that because the woman is choosing to remain anonymous that she’s not a reliable witness, even while they hold press conferences copping to “problematic behavior.” Bloggers and pundits will write back and forth about his chances now, his chances later, his possible contracts with cable news. In all of the political wonk-talk we’ll lose track of the real story, which is this:
Anthony Weiner is a sexual harasser; as such he is an abuser of power. And abusers of power tend to abuse whatever power you give them. Period. As Ta-Nehisi Coates likes to say, “you are what your record says you are.”
An interesting footnote to the story of Michael Mooney, the embezzling President of Lewis and Clark College, is that when he was first caught the board of trustees wanted to let it slide. Maybe he was a scoundrel, they said to themselves, but he was their scoundrel. He brought in lots of donations from alumni, and because of this they assumed he couldn’t also be a crooked man. That’s terrible logic, but they believed it because they very much wanted it to be true. It took a continued line of scandals in order for them to wake up and realize to whom they’d handed the reigns of power.
New Yorkers should wake up and realize the same thing about Weiner before they hand him the keys to the largest city budget in the country.
 Regular readers of this site know that I almost never mention my clients by name. I am making an exception in this case because I don’t think my normal rule applies. The story was national news and involved the trustees’ endowment. My firm was employed by the college to help them increase worker-safety and self-insure their workers compensation exposure. Neither my firm nor myself were in any way involved with insider conversations regarding the scandal. I am not imparting any special knowledge of events, but rather relaying facts that are common knowledge here in Portland.
 Seriously, is there any way you can’t use his name in a sentence and not sound like you’re making an innuendo?