Here in New York State, our news is full of stories about Sheldon Silver, the apparently soon-to-be former Speaker of the New York State Assembly. He has been indicted on federal corruption charges. He is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but there is a lot of talk among the news analysts about these very serious charges in the context of business as usual for our part-time legislature. This article is but one of many similar pieces.
I think one of the big lessons of this story for all of us who are not in politics or otherwise in a situation directly analogous to Mr. Silver is that counting on “business as usual” or its companion, “we’ve always done it that way” is dangerous. In this situation, all it took was a US attorney who decided to pursue something that previous US attorneys had not chosen to pursue. In other contexts, all it would take is for one person or agency currently focused in one direction to change his/her/its gaze. Then, having done something for years may not help and, in fact, may make the charges or possible penalty worse.
As compliance consultants, we often hear “we’ve always done it this way and never had any problems” or similar sentiments. We understand it is comfortable to think that because we have been successful doing something, it is ok to do it that way. But it is not always the case. Sometimes it is luck. Sometimes rules change and sometimes regulatory or law enforcement attention shifts. None of us want to find out we are wrong in that way. Change is hard, but handcuffs and a career destroyed are harder.