Robert Whitcomb: 38 Studios disaster mainly just sloth, stupidity and provinciality

Excerpted from "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.

There may well have been corruption in the 38 Studios disaster. Certainly the roles of dubious fixer/lobbyist/lawyer Michael Corso and the now jailed former Rhode House Speaker Gordon Fox and their allies need further investigation or at least exposure, and I wish that all the legal information about this outrage had been released.

But stupidity and sloth seem to be the major factors in the plus-$100 million (with interest) disaster, not out-and-out corruption. Maybe the desire of the powers that be to avoid being revealed as slobs has more to do with keeping the full files of this case secret than anything else.

For the fact is that if the legislators (such as then state representative and now state Atty. Gen. Peter Kilmartin) who voted in 2010 for  a package of $125 million  in state bond guarantees, $75 million of which turned out to befor one untested video-game company, had bestirred themselves to  look into the legislation and then call a few venture capitalists and ask them what they thought of what most would  have seen as an idiotic investment, and then displayed a little courage to reject the deal against the wishes of legislative leaders, this outrage never would have happened.

The failure of legislators time and again to do any research on what they’re asked to vote on and to follow, without little information and  no courage, in lockstep the directions of legislative leaders is, to say the least, a problem. Of course that then Gov. Donald Carcieri,  a former high-level backslapper at Old Stone Bank (RIP) and Cookson America, was enthusiastically pushingthe deal, complete with photo ops with Curt Schilling, also helped set the table for the catastrophe.

Making the whole thing more irritating is the knowledge that if  the state had spent the equivalent of the $75 million bond guarantee for 38 Studios on some  substantial projects – e.g., fixing bridges, filling potholes, picking up more roadside trash, repairing state-owed buildings, vocational training or even marketing the state as a tourist mecca – then a wide range of Rhode Islanders could have benefitted and not just the likes of Michael Corso. Or backed bonds of some small but promising Rhode Island-based companies that already had revenues, of all things.

Also, the not-yet-laid-off members of the news media at the time that 38 Studios was proposed could have done a better job in asking investment experts their opinion of this absurd deal. Boston, a major venture-capital center, is just up the road.

-- Robert Whitcomb