As much as politicians in Illinois have had a tradition of corruption, the people of Illinois have had a tradition of accepting it, even expecting it — and long before Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was accused of trying to put a Senate seat up to the highest bidder.
By Kate Zernike
The New York Times
Otto Kerner, who served as governor in the 1960s, was found to have accepted bribes in the form of racetrack stock only after the track owner deducted it on her taxes as the cost of doing business.
After Paul Powell, an Illinois secretary of state, longtime state legislator and infamous dealmaker, died in 1970, associates discovered $800,000 in undocumented cash in shoeboxes, briefcases and strongboxes in his closet, a considerable cache for a man who had never earned a salary of more than $30,000.
Mr. Powell had emerged unscathed from a grand jury investigation into accusations that he bought stock in a harness racing company. As he said, “It wound up with the grand jurors wanting to know from me where they could buy racetrack stock.”
The state’s unusually lax laws have allowed corruption to flourish — in fact, prosecutors say, it was the threat of a new campaign finance law that takes effect in January that set Mr. Blagojevich on a last spree of pay-to-play. The tradition was established by the immigrants who settled the state in the 19th century and nurtured by a stubborn system of machine politics that other states eradicated long ago.
“There is this attitude among politicians, and frankly among citizens, that this is the way things are,” said Kent Redfield, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “Politics is for professionals.”
The surprise for many Illinoisans last week was not that their governor was arrested, but that he could be brazen enough to try to sell a United States Senate seat when he was already under federal investigation.
Now the culture of his adopted home state threatens to dog President-elect Barack Obama, whose vacated seat in the Senate Mr. Blagojevich is accused of putting up for auction, much as swampy Arkansas politics dogged the last young Democratic politician elected on a platform of change, former President Bill Clinton.
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