In Oregon, a whistleblower is preparing to go to trial against a powerful opponent, the Oregon Health Authority. As so often happens, the costs of whistleblowing—reporting waste, fraud and abuse—have fallen disproportionately on the truth teller’s shoulders. Vikki Mata, the whistleblower, lost her job as a public affairs specialist after she reported financial irregularities in a program set up to provide health care coverage for uninsured children.
An audit requested by Mata confirmed her claim that OHA had overstated the number of uninsured children in the state. The inflated numbers allowed OHA to improperly claim additional federal funds. Of course, when money is mis-allocated, it is not available for children who are qualified to receive it . As a consequence of Ms. Mata’s efforts to point out the error, the state returned $4.5 million dollars to the federal Healthy Kids Program where was again available for its intended purpose.
Children, taxpayers and the federal government were made whole again, but Mata is struggling alone to recover the financial security she had before blowing the whistle. She filed a lawsuit against OHA claiming violations of state whistleblower laws and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. If she wins, she might get her job back or compensation for the loss. So far, her case has gone well. In an order dated 8/31/15, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane rejected the agency’s request to have Mata’s complaint dismissed and wrote that the case would go to trial.
“[T]he plaintiff has presented evidence to support the conclusion that she engaged in a protected activity when she made internal and external reports of wrongdoing, based on an objectively reasonable belief that a violation of law had occurred,” wrote McShane. “Plaintiff has satisfied all the threshold elements required for stating a First Amendment freedom of speech claim.”
It was an impressive victory against an agency with massive legal firepower. But, Mata could still lose her case if she cannot obtain the funds needed to prepare for and attend trial. On a crowdfunding web page set up to receive donations, she writes:
“Losing my position with benefits and fighting this legal battle has ruined my life at many levels, details of which will be known at trial. I have had great difficulty finding meaningful employment and have exhausted my savings and retirement funds to support my family and finance the lawsuit. I have been selling personal and prized possessions and pick up contract work where I can. That is why I humbly ask for donations to support my cause at a critical time.”
On the crowdfunding page, Mata describes the anticipated expenses of taking her case to trial; for example, $150 for process servers and couriers. Donations of any size are welcome and potentially critical to her success. Those who cannot afford to contribute money can help in other ways: sharing links to the crowdfunding page, her Facebook page and/or this story.
Whistleblowers make government more transparent and accountable to the public. If each of us would donate a few dollars to helping a whistleblower take a case to trial, we would send a powerful message to government officials that honesty really is the best policy.