Blagojevich case is part of feds’ focus on graft
The FBI is probing some 2,500 public corruption cases – a 50 percent jump since 2003.
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But he’s not the only US attorney pursuing politicians. In New York, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York was forced to resign after federal investigators found that he was a regular customer of a high-end prostitution ring.Skip to next paragraph
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That’s in addition to Senator Stevens and Representative Jefferson. Both men were indicted by the feds and, in Stevens’s case, convicted. Both lost reelection bids in November’s vote.
Overall, the FBI now has more than 2,500 pending public corruption investigations, according to bureau spokesperson Jason Pack. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent since 2003.
In the past five years, the number of agents working the public corruption beat has also gone up by 50 percent, according to the FBI. More than 1,800 federal, state, and local officials have been convicted in the last two years alone.
“Unfortunately, the private sector has by no means cornered the market on greed,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller in a speech earlier this year.
Public corruption is now one of the bureau’s top investigative priorities, behind only terrorism, espionage, and cybercrimes, according to official statements.
The Blagojevich case has captured national headlines, but recent investigations have also targeted lower-profile politicians. These politicians include Massachusetts state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who was arrested in October on charges that she accepted $20,000 in cash as payment for the introduction of legislation.
“I think some politicians get a sense of entitlement after they’ve been in office a long time,” says Wendy Schiller, an associate professor of political science and public policy at Brown University. “They deal with lots of wealthy people and they think, ‘Why can’t I live like that?’ ”
In historical terms, high-level political corruption today is less than it used to be, says Professor Schiller, who studies the subject.
Prior to the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century, which led to public Senate elections, paying for a Senate seat was not uncommon. In 1899, hoping to be appointed senators from Montana, W.G. Conrad and William Clark laid out $1 million in bribes apiece.
Following the Watergate scandal of President Nixon’s presidency, the federal and many state governments passed laws establishing transparency of the political process, further reducing opportunities for corruption, according to Schiller.
As the recent cases show, corruption continues. “But so much of that stuff really can’t be done anymore,” says Schiller.