February 8, 2009
By Bill Kraus
Someone once said that you can find something good to say about anyone. Blagojevich then is a good bad example.
Outlandish? Yes. Unique? Hardly.
There are a lot of reasons Blagojevich did what he did (no compelling ones about for how he did it). The most important one is the need for money to run campaigns and keep the power that money buys made him do it.
As campaigns became more expensive, more entrepreneurial, more the playgrounds for the well endowed candidates and the third-party zealots and single issue groups incumbents began to use the powers of incumbency to accumulate the large amounts of money they felt they needed to perpetuate their favored status.
It is called “pay to play.”
Money has always bought access to power. Pay to play money buys action.
The legislative leaders set up a series of toll booths. Supplicants pay a toll to get a bill introduced, another to get it to committee, then out of committee and to the floor for a favorable floor vote and shipment to the executive office where the Blagojeviches of the world have an opportunity to extract their pound of flesh.
When this costly journey was exposed in Wisconsin, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala went to jail, and Republican Speaker of the Assembly Scott Jensen started his endless journey through the legal system on the way to who knows what fate awaits him.
Two Illinois governors and one from Connecticut have been deposed or jailed as well when ambitious prosecutors followed the money trail to the executive offices in those states.
Bill Richardson’s journey to the cabinet was derailed because of suspicions that a form of Blagoization has spread to New Mexico.
Increasingly legislators and executives here and elsewhere have suffered the embarrassment of having to answer questions raised by the annoying do-gooder organizations and the dwindling but really annoying few remaining investigative journalists.
Is something being bought here? they ask.
Those who ignore or brush the question aside have to deal with the political version of a long ago story about a sports writer whose editor told him not to accept any largesse from a team he was covering.
“Do you think I can be bought for a 5th of whiskey?” he asked the editor.
“I’m not sure,” the editor replied, “but I do know that they didn’t give it to you because they thought you were thirsty.”
Blago-ism moves this Q-and-A to front and center in politics and raises the question whether those in power will realize--even if they dodge investigation and prosecution--that play-to-pay puts their good names and the good name of the trade they practice at serious risk.
It is easy to blame the system. It is hard to dodge the fact that the people who are victimized by or blaming the system have the power to change it and the behavior it evokes.
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For many decades U.S. State Department civil service employees with rank high enough to be considered for Ambassadorships participated in a particularly blatant and open example of "pay to play." They would contribute large sums to a political action fund that would EVENLY SPLIT its proceeds between the two candidates for president IN EXCHANGE for a specific commitment as to the percentage of Ambassadorships that would go to career State Department employees as opposed to presidential political appointments.
That's right: an agreed upon in advance percentage to career employees in exchange for a share of the money.
I can't conceive of a more BLATANT example of
"pay to play" but never saw a word in print from our "investigative reporters" about this long-standing system.
Yet pages and pages and pages of outrage in the Chicago Tribune about Blogojevich. Suggests to me that the Tribune has an agenda here that is more than just promoting good government.
-L. Siefert | Milwaukee, WI | February 10, 2009