Illinois for sale

Reading the affidavit in support of Tuesday’s arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is like reading a poorly written political potboiler. It’s hard to believe any 21st century elected official could be as venal or stupid as portrayed.

But the FBI and a number of people associated with Blagojevich believed it. As a result, the FBI obtained enough evidence to arrest the governor and, we hope, put an end to the political career of a man who said he hoped to one day become president.

Did Blagojevich really believe he could receive a personal financial bonanza from his gubernatorial authority to appoint a Senate replacement for President-elect Barack Obama?

Apparently so, based on numerous telephone conversations the FBI taped. In one of them,

Blagojevich declared, “A Senate seat is a f—-ing valuable thing. You don’t just give it away for nothing.”

The governor and several advisers talked of Blagojevich becoming a Cabinet secretary or ambassador in return for appointing a person to the Senate whom Obama supported, the affidavit shows.

Later, when it was clear that wouldn’t happen, they began finagling to get Obama’s help in obtaining Blagojevich a high-paying job on a nonprofit foundation as well as a job for his wife.

Obama’s team apparently refused to play along, however. “They’re not willing to give me anything but appreciation,” an angry Blagojevich said in one conversation. Federal authorities said there was nothing to implicate Obama or his staff in the case.

But one man who caused Obama considerable headaches during the past election — campaign contributor Antonin “Tony” Rezko, who helped the Obama’s purchase a house in Chicago — was intimately involved with Blagojevich.

According to the affidavit, Rezko worked closely with the governor and his advisers to ensure that companies seeking permits to build hospitals in Illinois made contributions to Blagojevich’s campaign.

They also arranged a quid pro quo for companies seeking to manage a portion of the teachers’ pension fund: The companies had to contribute to the governor’s campaign in exchange for management contracts.

Road-building contracts, health-care funds and more were for sale through the governor’s office, according to FBI documents.

Equally amazing, when Sam Zell, the owner of the struggling Chicago Tribune and Chicago Cubs, sought state financial aid to help with Wrigley Field, Blagojevich and his staff made one demand: He must first fire the entire editorial-page staff at the Tribune because they had been repeatedly critical of Blagojevich, even suggesting he should be impeached.

The Tribune, which this week filed for bankruptcy, did not capitulate to Blagojevich.

Colorado and most other states are fortunate we don’t have the culture of corruption that has permeated Illinois politics seemingly forever. For example, Blagojevich’s predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, is now serving time in prison for fraud.

But even by the Illinois standards, Blagojevich’s overt pay-to-play policies for anyone and everyone — even the president-elect of the United States — are astounding.


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