Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The $55 million subpoena

This morning's revelation by Chicago Tribune reporters Jeff Coen and Ray Long that the feds have subpoenaed Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's campaign records should come as no surprise to anyone following this story closely. Nonetheless, it is a devastating blow to the campaign's future ability to raise money, and thus the governor's remaining sliver of credibility.

Savvy businessmen gave Blagojevich money because they expected a future return. With the feds truly crawling all over campaign records, that's no longer such a wise investment. Anyone who gives Blagojevich a campaign contribution from here on out is essentially paying his legal defense fund.

Without a massive campaign treasury, Blagojevich simply isn't a viable politician. He was only able to overcome his feeble legislative and congressional records with a $55 million fundraising operation that dwarfed all others in Illinois history. That allowed him to defeat three consecutive opponents—Paul Vallas, Jim Ryan and Judy Baar Topinka—who all had accomplished much more in public life than he.

(Total fundraising with number of active years in parentheses)

Blagojevich — $55,329,366 (6)

George Ryan — $24,438,469 (29)

Jim Ryan — $21,113,264 (13)

Judy B. Topinka — $15,442,485 (27)

Jim Edgar — $9,158,286 (22)

Glenn Poshard — $5,134,728 (2)

Dawn Netsch — $2,416,184 (20)
Even with inflation figured in, these numbers are staggering. It never smelled right—a politician with a mediocre public record who was able to raise rock star-like money. There's only one logical explanation: the fundraising was being fueled by expectations of state contracts and appointments. There's already plenty of evidence in the indictments of Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine and Joe Cari that the promises were being made and the goods delivered. And there's billowing smoke in the archives of newspapers across the state of many more deals.

Finding examples of corruption within Blagojevich's $55 million campaign fund will be like finding cicadas on old trees in metropolitan Chicago—they're everywhere. Unlike the cicadas in Illinois, however, corruption in the governor's office happens every four years, instead of every 17.

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