Ending Political Corruption Starts in Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Ryan Benedictine University

Another former Illinois governor went to the federal penitentiary on corruption charges in March.

Fiscal mismanagement and system corruption continue to plague state government.

A recent report released by scholars at the University of Illinois at Chicago noted there were 1,828 public corruption convictions by the federal courts in Illinois since 1976, making it the most corrupt state in the union after Louisiana and the District of Columbia.

Despite political and ethical reforms, not much has changed.

In 2006, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich successfully ran for re-election, notwithstanding the fact he was under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney, a fact disclosed by newspapers across the state. How could well-meaning voters have allowed this to happen?

The answer is the influence of campaign cash and an avalanche of negative, distortive TV ads that often manipulate uninformed voters.

In their recent book, "Illinois Politics: A Citizen's Guide," James D. Nowlan and his associates at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana document a likely reason Blagojevich defeated Judy Baar Topinka, who was then Illinois treasurer. The Blagojevich campaign spent more than $18 million on 22,109 TV ads, while Topinka's campaign, by comparison, spent $4.5 million dollars on 4,638 ads.

Capitalizing on convicted former Gov. George Ryan's unpopularity with voters and Illinois' enormous debt, one series of ads characterized Topinka as "George Ryan's treasurer." This, of course, was factually not true. Under the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois treasurer is an independently elected constitutional officer and not a member of anyone's cabinet. Topinka was not George Ryan's treasurer.

These ads, along with many other negative attacks, combined to unfairly present Topinka to Illinois voters.

The late Daniel Elazar, a respected scholar whose research focused on state political culture, identified three dominant cultures in the United States: traditionalistic, moralistic and individualistic.

Politics and government are viewed as dominated by elites in those states identified as traditionalistic. Those states with a moralistic culture view politics and government as the means to achieve the collective good.

Individualistic states like Illinois see politics and government as just another way to achieve individual goals. As Elazar wrote, politics in Illinois "centered on personal influence, patronage, distribution of federal and later state benefits, and the availability of economic gains of those who were politically committed to politics as their business."

To change Illinois' political culture will require a long-term strategy. Citizens must raise their standards and expectations for politics and politicians. …