Money and Evidence: A Puzzling Difference and A Modest Proposal

As a general rule, the more evidence there is the more likely it is that there will be a fair determination of what happened, why and who is responsible.

With money the opposite seems to be true.  The more money there is the harder it appears to be to figure out what happened, why and who is responsible.  It even seems to be the case that the larger the amount of money involved is, the more likely it is to disappear without a trace.  

Two examples are TARP funds and billions of dollars missing in Iraq.

Common sense suggests that large amounts of money – especially government money – do not simply get lost.  There has to be a trail, a series of transfers from point to point, initiated by people with names and titles, addresses and phone numbers.  As Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, said, tracking and accounting for money is not “Rocket Science.”

Evidence in criminal cases must have a chain of custody, an accounting of where the evidence came and what happened to it at every point from the time it was gathered to the time it is offered as evidence in court.  We suggest that stimulus money be treated as evidence in a criminal case, which, in a sense, it is, and that there be a transparent – open for public inspection 24 x7 in real time – chain of custody for every dollar appropriated and spent from the time it leaves Washington until the time it reaches its intended destination, showing how much is transferred, when, how, by whom and to whom each time the funds or any part thereof are transferred until they reach their intended endpoint.

Every time money is transferred there is evidence of the transfer.  That evidence should be made available online in realtime so that everyone can see where the money (our money) is going all the way from Washington to, for example, the contractor who builds a road or bridge, showing each stop along the way, including the names and titles of each person responsible for each transfer.

This sort of thing is surely doable and ought to be done not only with respect to the bailout package but also with respect to the transfer of all public money at the federal, state and local level.  Taxpayers should be able to see all of the checks drawn on “their account” by government officials.