Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rod Blagojevich Shocks This Blog Back Into Action


Like the rest of those who care about law and politics, your blogger sits agog at the charges announced against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Democrat of Illinois. It's been all over the news today--the story of a Governor allegedly so dedicated to selling his office that he essentially put up for auction the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama even after Blagojevich had reason to know that the feds were tapping his phones. In the words of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, it was “a political corruption crime spree.”

Hubristic, stupid, insane—commentators’ characterizations are numerous for this man who muses about running for President in 2016 even after he knew key associates were talking to federal prosecutors and he was under a Department of Justice microscope.

This blogger was struck by the similarities of this Illinois scandal with some of what we have seen uncovered in the federal investigations into the Alaska public corruption scandals. Like Gov. Blagojevich, Rep. Tom Anderson--an Anchorage Republican who served in the Alaska State Legislature--appeared to keep committing crimes even after each of them knew the feds were watching. (Anderson had even been a cooperating witness—that is, a person who wires up at the FBI’s direction in phone conversations and meetings with unsuspecting suspects—before backing out on his deal and doing unusual legislative favors for Bill Allen of VECO, the corporation that had paid Anderson tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.)

And as occurred in Alaska with several legislators, the federal government apparently has evidence of the Illinois Governor and his chief of staff committing crimes on tape. In both Alaska and Illinois, the evidence was unusual because in many public corruption cases the taped evidence consists of people admitting that they had committed crimes in the past, not of them actually doing it contemporaneously. Such contemporaneous evidence—catching people in the act on tape—shows that the investigation is long-running and that the perpetrators are unusually clueless.

A final irony common to the investigations in both states is a high degree of formal education among the public officials caught. Every one of the five public officials convicted in the Alaska public corruption scandals so far has at least one advanced degree, and three of them have law degrees. Both the Illinois Governor and his chief of staff—also charged today—are lawyers. Blagojevich was a prosecutor and a Member of Congress before he ran for Governor as a reformer in reaction to the record of his predecessor, who now sits in federal prison for bribe-taking and other crimes.

Illinois has a sorry history of public corruption. A number of municipal governments—including Chicago’s—have had unfortunate problems with dishonesty, and the last 50 years has seen two of the Land of Lincoln’s Governors go to prison for crimes committed while in office and a third incarcerated for offenses committed after his term in office. In 1970, $800,000 in cash was found in the hotel room of the Illinois Secretary of State when he died—with some of it stuffed in shoe boxes—a fact some thought odd given that in a lifetime of public service he had never earned more than $30,000 a year. (One politician cracked that “It will take a big man to fill his shoe boxes.”)

This terrible tradition in Illinois seems linked to both the state’s historically lax campaign finance laws and an ingrained culture of corruption that led elites in both political parties to expect that public officials would steal. Alaska would do well to try to avoid both of those contributing factors.

Administrative Note: I’m back in Alaska and back posting. Look forward to discussions of the post-trial motions of Ted Stevens and the pre-trial appeal of Bruce Weyhrauch, among other hot topics.

1 comment:

Annette said...

Yet, according to USAToday Alaska is 3rd in corruption and Illinois is 16th....lol So what does that say...HMMMMM

Glad to see you posting again.