Once again, President Donald Trump has floated the idea of commuting the federal prison sentence of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and once again, people have recoiled in disgust.
They correctly recall the many corrupt acts of which Blagojevich was convicted – from his attempt to auction the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder, to his attempt to shake down a hospital CEO for a campaign contribution by blocking state reimbursement to children’s doctors.
Let Blagojevich serve his entire 14-year sentence. But do not be fooled into believing that his remaining in prison has somehow deterred Illinois of its culture of political corruption.
That culture, and the leaders who enable it, remain in charge here. It’s a culture created by a group of career politicians who have figured out how to make the system work for them, rather than those they serve.
Much of the blame for this lies at the feet of Democrats who control every branch of state government. The leader of the party, House Speaker Michael Madigan, has held the top job in the House almost continuously since 1983. While Illinoisans shoulder the burden of some of the highest property taxes in the country, Madigan’s private law firm concentrates on handling property tax appeals for corporate clients.
Blagojevich was blatantly out of bounds in his conduct, but others accused of misdeeds or conflicted interests receive more favorable treatment.
Federal prosecutors announced earlier this month that state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat who is a cousin of the state Senate president, had been indicted on charges of embezzling from the Teamsters Union. Prosecutors allege Cullerton accepted a salary and benefits from the union for three years while doing little or no work.
The response from Senate President John Cullerton (Tom Cullerton’s cousin) was to remove Cullerton from his position as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee and instead make him chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In the spring, as the state legislature considered a massive expansion of gambling – including adding still more video gambling terminals around the state – we learned that Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, and Assistant Majority Leader Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, both had family ties to the gaming industry, with Brady having interest in a company that operates terminals, and Munoz’s son having been hired by a video gambling terminal operator.
With federal investigators continuing a probe that has already led to indictments of two Chicago City Council members, there may be more charges to come against state lawmakers, and who knows how high they might reach.
All of this has occurred with Blagojevich sitting in a federal prison in Colorado. Yes, he should remain there until his sentence is served.
But simply keeping a disgraced former governor in prison is not having a chilling effect on the transactional political culture that continues to reign supreme in Illinois – if it ever did.
That this continues to be part of the way Illinois lawmakers do business is a direct reflection on the state’s political leaders. As the Speaker of the House and chairman of the state’s Democratic Party organization, Madigan could lead the charge to put an end to it if he chose.
Yet he has not, and Springfield politicians continue to find ways to profit from their own decisions and enrich themselves through the systems they oversee.