With the news that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have been arrested on federal corruption charges, it is almost a given that some Republicans will try to link Obama to this, while ignoring the small detail that Obama is not involved.
For those who don’t know, Gov. Blagojevich has been under investigation for a few years now for misuse of his office by soliciting kickbacks in return for state appointments and state contracts. The bombshell dropped by the indictment today was that Blagojevich was trying to sell an appointment to Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. In return for Obama’s seat, the soon to be former governor wanted, “a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation, or an organization affiliated with labor unions; placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year; promises of campaign funds – including cash up front; and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.”
In a press release, U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald said, “The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering. They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions.”
There is no evidence that Obama was willing to give in to Blagojevich’s desire for an ambassadorship or cabinet position. In essence, Blagojevich was trying to extort from Obama an appointment in exchange for putting the president elect’s chosen replacement into his former Senate seat, but Obama has not publicly expressed any preference for a successor. It is clear that the federal government acted when Blagojevich accelerated his activities by going on what Fitzgerald called, “a political corruption crime spree.” The last straw was the attempted selling of Obama’s Senate seat.
Everybody knew that it was only a matter of time before Blagojevich went down. He was already ostracized from the state Democratic Party. The events of today won’t damage Obama in any way, because he was not involved in any of the activities listed in the indictment. I think that some Republicans are going to try to damage Obama with this, but it won’t go anywhere. Republicans may try to howl about the “Democratic culture of corruption,” however this is a problem at executive branch level of the Illinois state government.
The previous governor of the state is currently in prison for misuse of his office and corruption, so the problem is in political culture of the state. How many other states would find this type of quid pro quo behavior to be business as usual in the governor’s office? What inspired Blagojevich’s crime spree is that a new ethics was about to take effect at the beginning of the new year. It is clear that more reforms are needed. What I find most amazing is that Obama emerged from this state with only his association to Tony Rezko to damage him. To the rest of the country Illinois looks like a political cesspool today, and it will likely take more indictments and new laws to clean it up.