Does 14 Year Sentence for Blago Deter Political Crime?

Last night watching the news about our soon-to-be incarcerated ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich, my wife commented that the real crooks still are in control.

The line under the Onion’s photo of Blagojevich seems to express her opinion more pointedly:

The headline says, "Least Corrupt Politican in Illinois History Sentenced to 14 Yeras in Prison."

In reading Capitol Fax comments on whether Rod Blagojevich’s sentence will deter political corruption and found this one from a former prosecutor which I would like to share:

As a former prosecutor, I’ve thought about this a lot. I think that jail sentences for white collar crimes have some deterrent value, and some value for expressing society’s outrage. The outrage for Blago — both because of his own conduct and because he succeeded Ryan as a “reformer” — was great.

That being said, I agree with Jack Abramoff, the convicted DC lobbyist, who has been in the media promoting his new book. The worst type of corruption is the legal corruption.

Example 1: I get the bill you want passed. A couple of weeks later you get an invitation to my fundraiser. I make a comment to you at some point that isn’t quite a quid pro quo, but lets you know that I know who my contributors are. Nothing can get prosecuted.

Example 2: Relatives/friends of the mayor are the winning bidders! The mayor may not have told anyone to help them with the contract. He/She may not even know about it. Underlings just help make sure it happens.

Example 3
: You hire my law firm to do real estate tax appeals. I don’t handle the appeals – my partners do. My friends and political supporters are the assessor and on the zoning board of appeals. My partners are really good real estate appeals lawyers and they (almost) always win. You don’t even have to contribute to me, just pay your legal fees. I make contributions to my friends, of course. And if you happen to have other business up before my office/committee, I may remember that you hired me. I may even loudly announce that I recuse myself.

Nothing prosecutable here, folks. Just business as usual. Money flowing into the system. Money elects people who keep the system running. New people get their take for their campaigns.

If a politician is greedy, and/or not very smart, he or she might be so obvious about it that the politician “crosses the line” between legal and illegal, and risk being “caught” and prosecuted.

So, in a way, catching Blago, Ryan, etc., is only catching some of the ones who are most stupid and/or arrogant. It’s not deterring the pros from legal corruption.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. The public needs to know what goes on. And while the legal corruption is horrible, corrosive, and destructive, the outright bribery and extortion is also bad. Sunlight and bleach need to be used on the system as much as possible. They help a little. But these prosecutions, at best, deter some illegal corruption. They don’t stop the bulk of the legal trading of money for access and governmental contracts and favors that is, at best, a necessary side-effect of our system.

My suggestion is incarceration in state prison:

  • elected by their peers
  • judged by their peers
  • punished with their peers


Does 14 Year Sentence for Blago Deter Political Crime? — 3 Comments

  1. Only cutting the size, scope and especially power of gov’t will limit the depth of corruption.

  2. Re Title Question: “Does 14 Year Sentence for Blago Deter Political Crime?”

    A “Yes” answer would suggest that human beings have excellent common sense (if not integrity)…and that their egos and need for power and their greed won’t overcome that common sense.

    As I watch the news over decades, I come away shaking my head wondering “What were they thinking?”

    These are supposed to be adult elected officials who are supposed to represent the best interests of the people – their fellow citizens, their friends, family, and neighbors. Instead it seems as though their brains are locked in some time frame from when they were children who never learned to do the right thing. You might think that attaining a title and having a good paycheck and benefits would be enough but sadly it isn’t. Instead of using their talents and education for better they preferred personal gratification.

    I would suggest that the death penalty doesn’t stop murderers and that politicians always believe that THEY won’t get caught. Somewhere all the politicians who haven’t gotten caught are patting themselves on their backs. They’re chuckling that Rod B. stepped in it big time. They are on an adrenaline rush like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Somehow, THEY, the not caught criminals, are “special”. They can justify everything they do – even as they teach their children to not steal or be jerks.

    The media and the public are also in feeding frenzy mode….like those who stop to watch fires and accidents. It has become a game instead of disgusting.

    Rod B.’s children will go forward in life thinking that Daddy got a bad deal – at least for awhile. One day, when they are adults, they may think differently of Daddy the Governor. For now, HE is responsible for their pain.

    I don’t doubt that what HE did goes on every day – especially in Illinois, especially in Chicago.

    It starts when we are small and get away with things and progresses until we are adults and also justify things in our smaller worlds. “We” don’t correct a cashier when we know she/he has undercharged us. “We” gossip and yak to the detriment of others because it makes us feel powerful. Some of “us” turn away when our children steal candy figuring the store charges us too much and can take the loss.

    So, Rod B. is simply the criminal caught flavor-of-the month and every time something like this happens some others are wondering if the main guy will flip on them to get less time or get his wife free and clear. The adrenalin rush is apparently addictive and not enough to correct foul play.

    Perhaps another question should be “Why wasn’t his title and salary, and fame, and benefits “enough”?”

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