Blagojevich case: Will it seal Illinois' reputation as most corrupt state?
Ousted governor pleaded not guilty to federal charges on Tuesday, as political watchdogs tally cost of state's long history of graft and cronyism.
(Page 2 of 2)
At his arraignment Tuesday, Blogojevich did not make a statement before the plea, but he told reporters and spectators when he entered the courthouse that he was "innocent of every single accusation." The former governor is charged with trying to auction off the US Senate seat vacated by President Obama, planning to squeeze money form companies seeking state business, and plotting to use the financial muscle of his office to pressure the Chicago Tribune newspaper to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Loose campaign-finance laws
Illinois does not have a system of public financing for elections, and it does not restrict campaign contributions for state and local offices, which makes disclosure laws easy to evade. These factors that contribute to a tradition of corruption, say Illinois political watchdogs.
“All other jurisdictions [in the US] have campaign regulations in some form. We have nothing. You can take as much as you want from whomever wants to give it to you. It creates, not a backdoor for bribery, it’s a front door,” says Mr. Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
In his tenure as the state’s last Democratic governor before Blagojevich, from 1973-77, Dan Walker issued an executive order banning state employees from contributing to political campaigns, which became one of the state’s first and last political-reform measures.
Reform in Illinois was hard to attain because one-party politics dominated everything – traditionally, the Democrats in Chicago and the Republicans downstate, says Mr. Walker, reached by phone in Baja, Mexico. “If we could have created a Democratic Party that was free of the [political] machine, we could have made tremendous progress in Illinois. If the Democrats cut free and the Republicans cut free, we would have had a genuine two-party system in the state,” he says.
Reform proposals circulate
Proposals on reform – from limiting campaign financing to promoting more transparency – are making the rounds in the state capital, most notably from Governor Quinn’s newly formed Illinois Reform Commission.
Because corruption in Illinois has been so entrenched, it is not expected to dissipate overnight. States and municipalities where immigration and political histories are similar to Illinois', such as New York and Los Angeles, managed to change their operations gradually through a succession of reform mayors and more intensive scrutiny.
Watchdog groups say Chicago’s patronage system remains robust due to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who upon his election in 1989 and continuing today, centralized power from wards to City Hall; expanded the political machine to include ethnic groups, special-interest groups, and global corporations; and is creating a new delivery system of city services via privatization with contractors.
“As long as services are delivered, voters put up with extra cost of corruption,” says Simpson.
Reform commission recommendations – such as caps on campaign donations and new accountability measures – ultimately will go before the legislature for action.
Even some with an interest in reforming Illinois politics, however, say some of the proposals may do more harm than good.
“I look at this and say I’m [as] in favor of honest, good government as the next person, but if [politicians] can figure a way around [reform regulation] in five minutes," why bother to enact the reform? says Ann Lousin, a law professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, who helped write campaign-finance reform proposals in the early 1970s when working for the speaker of the Illinois House.
A more realistic solution for a state as corrupt as Illinois, she says, is full disclosure of how much donors give to campaigns. “What’s wrong with that? At least put it right out on the table.”