Something I’ve thought about for some time but have historically had a hard time putting into words.
We have these large corporations, some of them willing to cross ethical and legal boundaries, which the small business owners rely on to buy them out.
We have a situation where a whistleblower of sorts can come out and say “yeah, I did the math, they lied,” and the government won’t even look, nor will the journalists, so we know that there’s pretty much never going to be any investigation.
How much money these corporations control is in question because it’s all private equity. The estimator sites, as you’re about to see, are notoriously unreliable. But the estimate is the hundreds of millions of dollars for some agencies.
So just to put that into perspective, the National Court Reporters Association pulls in something like $3 million per year on members dues (wide ballpark figure). 10,000 voting members estimate at 300 a pop.
So with 1% to 3% of revenue, at least one company in the field could afford to match a sizable chunk of the NCRA budget. That’s less than annual ad budgets for some organizations.
So for relatively small amounts of money, leaders on our end can be bribed, and I think it’s something we need to open our minds to. This is a ballpark $3 billion industry according to market research I reviewed in the past. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 18,500 jobs with a median pay of about $60,000 per year. $1.11 billion in court reporter control annually.
NCRA statistics give a more optimistic 27,000 court reporters.
27,000 of us and a median salary of 60,000, court reporters control up to $1.62 billion a year.
So we know that we control a significant portion of the field’s total revenue no matter whose numbers we use. And we know that to control more of the the $3 billion field, the corps only need tiny percentages of revenue to grease the wheels going in their direction. And even our strongest association has basically no capacity to shell out anything close to that money.
Here’s a question for all of you. Would you spend 2% of your revenue, 5%, 10% or more, if it meant that future years you might pull in 10, 20, 30% more in revenue? It would be stupid not to with a potential 1,500% return annually. Especially since the agency owners you’re buying out won’t speak out against you and nobody would investigate the corruption. And even if they did investigate, there’s no guarantee that the lawbreakers would structure the payments in a way that is easy to detect. It’s a low-risk shot at controlling the market. And that 2% of revenue isn’t chump change, it’s enough to let someone retire for the rest of their life, so bribery would probably be easier, because people that accept bribes don’t often do it for amounts that allow lifelong retirement. They do it for much less.
So what am I getting at? 93% of bribes are under $1.5 million and the median value of bribes is $64,500. That’s a good 20 bribes for 1.5% of revenue for an organization that makes $100 million.
Corporate officers that have bonuses tied to corporate performance would be drooling for such an opportunity. Who’s going to turn them in? The shareholders that directly benefit from the increasing share value?
All these licensing boards that miraculously won’t do their job would be phenomenally easy to corrupt.
$64,000 would basically double a court reporter’s income if they were making median wage. So even court reporters are susceptible.
64,000 would more or less double what a well-paid association management company would charge…
…and to be quite honest, I was on an association board, and we didn’t even pay out $50,000 to $75,000, it can be more like $30,000 or less, my recollection, so that median bribe of 64,000 is over 200% of what we’re paying.
$64,000 would also be $64,000 more than what we pay most of our board members — board members that are often relying on the larger companies to buy out their businesses.
Look at this for a moment as a military op. If you can outspend and control your opposition’s leaders, you win. How hard would it be, really, for the people in power to go “derail these bumpkins and I’ll make it worth your while?” I’m not saying it happened. But I am saying it would be easy and there would be zero resistance. I am saying that it would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if such a thing was successful. For those of us that believe in honor, this is a horrifying thought. But we must accept that many do not think in terms of honor, they think in terms of dollars and cents, and learning to think like them is an illuminating experience.
So what do I suggest we do about it? I suggest we begin to treat this like a military op and begin to tighten up security gaps in leadership. Perhaps send stenographers to association management training regularly so that we have a large pool of leaders to choose from. Start detaching ourselves from paying someone else to handle our problems and begin building leaders that have done the job and respect our culture and society. Yeah, corruption will still be possible, but this is calculated to cut down on the susceptibility to corruption of our leaders. Oh, yeah, and pay the stenographer leaders, where possible, so that they’re not bleeding money to support the profession. Maybe even tie their compensation or bonus to new member signups and old member renewals so that they have an economic incentive to be proactive and bring more members into the association.
Alternatively, we could take the position that I originally took, and create something of an alternative media company that will inspire future leaders and out corruption. The players on the field will be less likely to bend or break rules when there’s a functioning free press ready to hold them accountable. I believe that raising about $6 million through shareholders (1,000 shares at $6,000 a share) would be enough to create a company that could reach self-sustainability and substantial returns for shareholders, including institutional shareholders, but I have yet to come up with a full business plan on that. Nonetheless, it is a viable option that me or anyone with enough guts could assemble and execute.
The cost of corruption to us as a profession is quite high. It has the capability of destroying entire associations and thousands of jobs. On the flip side, for the most powerful organizations in our field, it’s pretty cheap. People can be bought, on average, for comparatively tiny amounts of money. The tiny amounts of money could lead to massive returns for those willing to commit to malfeasance. If we do not begin to guard against this and come up with mechanisms that prevent our institutions from being hijacked, then we will almost certainly, sooner or later, be hijacked.
Average cost of a car is something like $50,000. $30,000 by some low estimates I’ve found. Would you leave your car unlocked and running with the keys in the ignition?
Then why have we left the door wide open to our $3 billion-a-year industry and our $1.6 billion-a-year slice of that? Can’t guard the record and pump knowledge into our continuing education community if we’re economically outplayed and starved of cash.
I am hopeful that framing the issue as I have leads to a re-imagining of our organizational and leadership structures. We cannot afford to be blind, lest we walk off a cliff. At the end of the day, we need to decide if we want our field to be a series of cliques and clubs that ride to a slow death because “the good old days are over,” or if we want to be a profession that has secured and cemented its right to exist for as long as the technological progress of humanity allows.
This profession has been a bastion of socioeconomic upward mobility, awarding great sums of money to those willing to work hard and serve the public good. I’ve made it clear that my intent is to keep that alive. If you’re with me, feel free to share.