Once again, a politician is taking flac for doing the right thing. Just two months ago, VP candidate Sarah Palin drew unfair criticism for accepting a complimentary makeover. Now Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested by FBI agents, not because his name is hard to spell, but instead for conduct inaccurately alleged by an Elliott Ness soundalike to be “a political corruption crime spree.” Blagojevich himself might benefit from a new haircut, and no doubt will receive a complimentary wardrobe if he ends up in prison for his purported misconduct, but leave that aside.
Instead, take a look at what the Gov is alleged to have done, and it will be easy to see why there’s less than meets the flinty eyes of a humorless prosecutor. We’ll save the main event for last, since the headliner, so to speak, always appears after the opening acts. The recitation here is based on a press release helpfully prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s office, which in turn is based on a short criminal complaint and a long FBI affidavit. The latter, at 76 pages, is almost a novella, and I intend to actively pursue the movie rights. Failing that, I may develop a series for cell phone streaming, a natural medium, since much of the affidavit is based on wiretaps anyway.
But I digress. The chief allegations against the Governor are as follows:
Tollway Project. Blagojevich allegedly sought political contributions totaling $500,000 from a highway contractor, in return for committing additional state money to a tollway project. That can scarcely be illegal—after all, it’s called a “tollway.” Highway contractors should pay tolls just like the rest of us. If anything, the Governor should have required the contractor’s execs to wear toll tags (or EZ Pass, whatever they’re called in
Moving on, note that the contribution allegedly requested was $50,000. The highway contractor, in contrast, was squeezed for ten times as much. Clearly the governor is showing solicitude for children here. As for why they should pay at all, wake up bucko: in the real world, stuff costs. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even if it’s hospital food. The sooner kids learn that, the better. Blago was simply providing a teachable moment for children too ill to attend school.
By the way, although Blago sounds like a type of asphalt used by highway contractors—which I suppose in a sense it is (see “Tollway Project,” above)—it’s actually the Governor’s nickname, and please don’t confuse it with “blogger,” which is what I am. I’m not the governor of anything, and I left
Casinos and Horses. This one is more Vegas than
Second, there’s the possibility that the buyer for the Cubbies would have turned out to be the hot-headed Mark Cuban. Ignore the possibility that he might erroneously hire basketball players for the Cubs, which would be a woeful mistake, save for their greater ability to catch fly balls. The real question is, who wants his courtside demeanor imported to another city? Then there’s the matter of Cuban’s recent insider trading indictment. And finally, the possibility that he might not only be named Cuban, but actually be one, in which case a sale to him would violate the embargo so effectively maintained against that island nation.
Third, look at the newspaper’s conduct—it’s highly culpable. How dare they criticize an elected official? It’s baffling that a newspaper, in these Bushian days, could think it had any right to be other than a lapdog. Bad enough that prosecutors see fit to criticize public servants. Do newspapers really have to mix in as well?
Finally, look at Tribune Company itself. Subjected by its still-new overlord, Sam Zell, to a crushing debt load, it was foreseeable that the company would file bankruptcy, as indeed it has. At this rate, there’s a good chance the editors will be fired anyway, along with reporters, copy editors, and other ink-stained wretches who do little that newspaper ad salesmen couldn’t do in their now copious downtime. Tossing out these deadweight personnel, burdened as they are with an inordinate respect for the news, is certainly the operating approach taken by another Tribune property, the LA Times, which sheds editors, publishers, reporters and news sections on an almost monthly basis. Since the Trib editors might well have been fired anyway, the Governor’s little nudge falls under the category of no harm, no foul.
Senate Seat. Finally we come to the main event: Blago allegedly tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, whose reasons for resigning remain unclear. While Obama seems likely to fade into obscurity as a result of abandoning a perfectly fine office in the Capitol, Blagojevich’s attempt to amass capital—remember, it’s –al for everything but the building—has brought him publicity of the sort that the former Senator can only dream of (or nightmare of, if there were such a verb, and why isn’t there?).
Now, the Governor sought many buyers for the Senate seat, the affidavit alleges. For instance, Obama and his posse apparently had a candidate in mind, but, said the Governor, “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.” A perfectly valid objection. As the Governor said, “I've got this thing”—meaning the Senate seat—“and it's fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I'm not gonna do it.” Just so. A Senate seat is indeed golden, if a little shopworn, in light of
The Governor allegedly went on to say of the seat, “And, and I can always use it”—who couldn’t, after all?—and then to add, damningly “I can parachute me there.” Now, this last is disturbing. That a state’s top elected official could say such thing is unfortunate—to use “me” when “myself” is called for! But this, of course, should have earned him an arrest by the grammar police, not the FBI.
We learn also of Blagojevich’s motivations for possibly parachuting himself through DC’s restricted airspace and into the Senate seat. One was frustration at being “stuck” as governor. Who can blame him for that? State capitals are often cesspools of corruption, and Blagojevich would scarcely want to find himself tarred with that black brush. He allegedly expressed a half-dozen or so other reasons, including a desire to avoid impeachment by the
Yet another potential transaction involving the Senate seat was a complicated affair that entailed a more or less do-nothing job for the Governor at the Service Employees International Union. Here again, we must invoke the principle of no harm, no foul and the defense of anachronism: since unions are and/or were so enamored of feather bedding, what’s another quasi-job amongst friends?
It goes on and on. One suitor for the Senate seat sent “[a]n emissary,” in the Governor’s words, not to be confused with an “emirate.” The latter would have implied a king’s ransom, or a king’s payoff more precisely, whereas all Blagojevich wanted was $250,000-$300,000 per year.
As I read on, absorbing the details of the alleged sale of the Senate seat, something rankled. All of a sudden it came to me: Blago’s conduct, in this one instance, was indeed criminal. Attempting to sell the Senate seat in this fashion was unlawful. A quick Google search revealed why: The sale violated an
[T]he property [shall] be advertised for sale to the highest responsible bidder, stating time, place, and terms of such sale at least 7 days prior to the time of sale and at least once in a newspaper having a general circulation in the county where the property is to be sold.
The Governor’s approach to the transaction failed to comply with two key elements: the sale—i.e., of the Senate seat—was not advertised (although word seems to have gotten around) and there was apparently no attempt to ensure that the bidders were responsible. On the other hand, he presumably did attempt to maximize the bids, and his failure to advertise in a newspaper as described can be excused due to the Trib’s unconscionable conduct described above.
So there’s the indictable offense. It’s no comfort to the U.S. Attorney, because the quoted statute is a state law, not a federal one. Sounds like a job for the