In the annals of corrupt Illinois politicians, Gov. Rod
Blagojevich may go down as one of the most brazen. But he has plenty
Three of the state's seven previous governors have been convicted
and served time. Since 1971, by one count, 31 Chicago aldermen and
some 1,000 public officials and businessmen have been convicted.
"We're the corruption capital of the United States," says Dick
Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in
Chicago and a former Chicago alderman, who maintains that state
corruption count. "We have more [corruption] even than New Jersey
and Louisiana, which are our competitors."
Politicians blame, in part, Illinois's loose system of ethics and
campaign-finance laws. But the deeper issue may be an entrenched
political culture in which trading favors - and money - is often
expected and encouraged, people enter politics thinking more about
power and personal gain than public service, and the public holds
their elected officials to a low standard of ethics.
Governor Blagojevich, charged on Tuesday with mail and wire fraud
and conspiracy to commit bribery, is under increasing pressure to
resign. President-elect Obama and several prominent Democrats have
called on him to step down, while Illinois Democrats have threatened
impeachment. On Thursday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
told CNN she was prepared to ask the state supreme court to have
Blagojevich declared unfit for office.
One of the key accusations against him is that he was trying to
sell the US Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama. The president-elect
said Thursday neither he nor his staff had been contacted about the
case. State legislative leaders say they will strip Blagojevich of
his power to choose the new senator at a special session Monday.
Blagojevich's alleged conduct, while quite aggressive, is not an
"We tend to treat politics as a business," says Kent Redfield, a
political scientist at the University of Illinois in Springfield.
"It's not about public interest, it's just the aggregate of
individual self-interest.... It's about power and winning and jobs."
"That kind of culture is pervasive," he says, noting that even
former Gov. Jim Thompson, who rose to power as the US attorney who
convicted Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner and several top aides to Mayor
Richard J. Daley, eventually bragged about the extent of his
When he worked in state government several decades ago, Professor
Redfield says, seasoned politicians would talk derisively about "goo-
goos," or "good government" types, implying that unlike those
people, they were about "real politics. …