It is absolutely mind boggling to read of the pay-to-play corruption gone wild in the indictment against Governor Rod Blagojevich — from withholding money for a children’s hospital unless given campaign contributions, to trying to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder, to demanding editors be fired by the Tribune Company in exchange for help selling Wrigley Field, to speeding up all of these efforts before a new ethics law taking effect this January 1…. not to mention the egomaniacal profanity with which Blagojevich issued his demands.
But beyond the shock and sadness of this moment, what’s key is something that novelist Scott Turow zeroed in on in a New York Times editorial today. He writes, “I hope the governor’s arrest galvanizes public outrage and at last speeds reform.”
Hit the nail on the head.
I spoke with Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign, this morning and he told me: “Especially with the leading advocate of public financing in the US Senate now being [Illinois Senator] Dick Durbin, and with another Illinois former Senator about to take the White House — both hail from this state and both are strong reformers. And so, one thing they could do, is to seize upon this scandal as the reason why we need to have public financing. It doesn’t prevent corrupt people from serving in office and committing crimes, but it does take away a major avenue of transactions for corruption. And it relieves all those pressures. So our hope is that they’ll seize upon this moment to illustrate why it is that we need an alternative system of funding bids for office…. The Blagojevich example is politics at its absolute worst. We want politics to be something other than a cesspool. It sends the wrong message to the public about what politics can be about. All of our current elected officials have the opportunity now to separate themselves from the pay to play system — of private financing of campaigns — they should take it.”
The Blagojevich Moment can be about more than just shock and shame — it can be about transformation in a nation that’s ready for it.