Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested this morning, along with an aide, on charges trying to sell President-elect Obama’s former US Senate seat to the highest bidder:
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested Tuesday morning in Chicago on two counts each of federal corruption charges stemming from allegations Blagojevich was trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The arrest is part of a three-year probe of "pay-to-play politics" in the governor’s administration. The criminal complaint by the FBI says each man was arrested on two charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
The charges also relate to allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with previously convicted defendants and Obama associates Antoin Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others to arrange financial benefits in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds.
Blagojevich and Harris will have an initial appearance in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
A statement by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Grant said Blagojevich and Harris "allegedly conspired to sell U.S. Senate appointment, engaged in pay-to-play schemes and threatened to withhold state assistance to Tribune Company for Wrigley Field to induce purge of newspaper editorial writers."
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Of course, Blagojevich is merely honoring that grand tradition of recent Land of Lincoln governors, doing the perp walk followed by a stay in federal prison: I think five of the last seven have wound up before a Federal judge. As this article from the Chicago Sun-Times points out, it’s not just an occasional bad apple here and there, it’s the whole political culture in Illinois:
"Corruption is nurtured by the political culture . . ." [Professor Larry Sabato] said. "Through the generations, corruption has become strongly associated with politics [and] people just expect the two to go together like love and marriage."
Let’s hear from a real insider. Richard Juliano, former deputy chief of staff for Ryan, spoke at the Minneapolis ethics conference.
If not the unsung hero of the Operation Safe Road probe of Ryan’s terms as secretary of state and governor, Juliano comes off looking better than most of the other 75 people who were convicted or pleaded guilty in that investigation. He cooperated with the prosecution even before being indicted and was sentenced to four years’ probation and a $10,000 fine.
Juliano said Ryan’s operatives were "conditioned" to "consider all of these [corrupt acts] to be minimal transgressions . . . as long as the media didn’t find out about it, in which case we would have a political problem, it would be OK . . . the goal was to win the election. As long as we win the election, everything else will take care of itself."
To quote Sabato once more on the culture of corruption: it "depends heavily on what average voters will tolerate from their elected officials."
The feds are vigorously investigating the administrations of Gov. Blagojevich and Mayor Daley. We just re-elected them by landslide margins.
So perhaps Rod’s attempt to sell a Senate seat was just the "way things are done" there. That’s sad. But, as Sabato points out, it’s what voters there are accustomed to and what they’re willing to tolerate. Until enough residents say "enough!", it isn’t going to change, no matter how many are put in jail. And it’s a bipartisan corruption, belonging neither to Democrats or Republicans alone: former Republican Governor George Ryan, Blagojevich’s predecessor, was convicted in 2006 of corruption while in office.
And let’s bear in mind we just elected as President someone who grew up in that political culture. I’m not saying he’s corrupt, but it’s hard to hang around hogs with getting some slop splashed on you.
To prove one can find humor in anything, however, I’ll close with a quote from the first article:
"Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics. …," [FBI Agent-in-Charge Robert] Grant said.
I bet I could sell this man a used bridge, too.
LINKS: Ace unleashes the flaming skull; Tigerhawk, who notes that CNN failed to mention the governor’s party. Hmmm…; Fausta, who’s reminded of the Governor of Puerto Rico; Sister Toldjah; Hot Air; Blue Crab Boulevard, where Rich is shocked, shocked! (Not really); Power Line; Byron York; AJ Strata; Jonah Goldberg; and LGF.