Message for a New Era in Political Ethics

Article excerpt

As 2009 rushed toward its conclusion as one of the most embarrassing years in the storied annals of Illinois political corruption, the state's Executive Ethics Commission issued a decision in a case that would be relatively minor but for the fact of who it involved and what it represented.

The ruling came in the case of three employees of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's communication staff who wrote a memo under the governor's signature in February 2007 praising the nascent presidential campaign of fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama. The ethics commission, responding to a complaint filed in September 2008 -- before Obama's election and the ethics allegations that led to federal charges against Blagojevich and his eventual ouster -- ruled that the memo actually constituted "political activities" and, since it was created on state time and state-owned computers, it represented a violation of state law.

The release itself -- which the three employees testified the governor never saw or discussed with them -- was cloaked in the guise of a statement of pride for the hopes of a state's favorite son. But with a particularly Blagojevichian flourish, it added, "Senator Obama supports the very best of these Democratic values; they are values that he and I share, values I know he will fight for."

Phrases like that, the ethics commission said -- as well as others stating Blagojevich was "excited and proud to support Senator Obama in his bid for the presidency" -- cannot be read in any other way than as a statement of political support. …