The Blagojevich Scandal: The View from 30,000 Feet
By Howie Rich
As Americans continue to eagerly devour each and every sordid morsel coming out of the Rod Blagojevich scandal in Illinois, politicians have not surprisingly become obsessed with finding new ways to feed this growing appetite.
And why wouldn't they?
With a U.S. Senate seat in limbo and bales of partisan hay to be made –Blagojevich is a gold mine for state and local elected officials looking for a quick and easy way to ramp up their name ID.
Politicians are never happier than when pointing fingers at one another, and the sheer audacity and crassness of Blagojevich's effort to sell this Senate seat to the highest bidder lends itself capably to such derision.
As a testament to the dimensions of this ongoing scandal, in its wake everything else we were focused on has receded.
Coverage of the coronation of President-elect Barack Obama has practically ground to a halt, as have media reports on the steadily deteriorating state of our nation's economy. A multi-billion bailout for Detroit? Another Kennedy seeking elected office in New York? A pair of shoes thrown at President George W. Bush?
It seems all of these stories are playing second fiddle to Chicagoland's scheming, foul-mouthed governor, his screaming "Lady MacBeth" and the growing list of politicians caught up in their insidious web.
Yet as the Blagojevichs' dirty laundry continues to be publicly aired (and as the ongoing investigation and Senate speculation dominate water cooler conversations), few people are actually stopping to consider the real roots of this ugly affair, to say nothing of its long-term lessons.
Specifically, very few of the politicians currently tripping over themselves to get in front of the nearest television camera are discussing how widespread these sorts of abuses truly are – and what measures citizens should be taking in order to prevent this sort of thing from continuing to happen.
Let's dispense with the intrigue and partisan jockeying, then, and take a brutally honest look at the Blagojevich mess from 30,000 feet.
First of all, if you think this sort of pay-to-play scamming doesn't go on every single day in Washington D.C. and state capitals all across America,
I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.
It may not always be so mindlessly overt (and the tape recorder may not always be on), but in the post-Jack Abramoff world we live in – a world of "free home renovations" for U.S. Senators and cash hidden away in Representatives' freezers – let's not delude ourselves.
The truth is that government entities dole out multi-million dollar contracts, make major regulatory decisions and pass new laws every day in America based on nothing more than who cut the biggest check to the politicians' campaign coffers. In fact, many of these deals come in the form of secretive "no-bid" contracts that often directly benefit politicians' friends and family members.
Sadly, the vast majority of these "pay-to-play" scams are perfectly legal –and even scarier, most of them never see the light of day.
Voters obviously have access to the financial contributions that go into political campaigns, but tracking the money that flows out of our government entities – our taxpayer money – often involves navigating impenetrable thickets of smoke, mirrors, mazes and secrets.
Should it surprise us, then, that politicians of low moral character like Blagojevich would seek to take advantage of their positions of public trust?
In Colorado last month, voters took a stand against this pervasive culture of political corruption in America. Over the objection of virtually every elected official (and every public and private sector labor union in the state), citizens passed a comprehensive clean and open government measure that dramatically alters the status quo conditions responsible for politicians' egregious behavior.
In addition to severely restricting political contribution's from no-bid government contractors including public sector unions, Colorado's new law also creates an online database where taxpayers will be able to follow how every cent of their money is being spent.
The logic behind this initiative is simple – remove the temptation, and you remove much of the bad behavior.
As the Blagojevich scandal continues to dominate headlines across the nation, let's hope that our elected officials start recognizing the wisdom of following Colorado's lead, rather than continuing to indulge their own greed.
The author is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.