Illinois is a legendary state in so many ways - from its architecture to its food; from its famed blues music to its political scene. One of the states more infamous residents happens to be the ex-Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who also holds the title of being the first governor in Illinois history to be impeached. Sadly, he is also the fourth Illinois governor since 1970 to be indicted on federal charges.
Once a rising star in the Democratic Party, Blagojevich was widely known for his ability to raise campaign money - from California to New York, donors helped fill his coffers. It was no secret that his ambitions were high - he wanted to become president of the United States and his ability to fundraise caught the attention of the Democratic National Party.
Blagojevich is scheduled to go to trial on June 3. He is being charged on 24 counts including allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Other charges include awarding state contracts, jobs and appointments in exchange for campaign contributions; threatening to withhold state contracts from a children's hospital unless campaign money was "donated," and of course, trying to fire the editors of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board because he didn't like what they wrote - allegedly.
While innocent until proven guilty needs to remain forefront, Illinois is just one example of government gone amok and it is the citizens of the state who are left paying for the corruption every day through a "corruption tax" - a fee paid by taxpayers when government is run for the benefit of the politicians and insiders, not for the public. The corruption tax in Illinois is a staggering 15%. That is money that could have been otherwise appropriated to services such as public aid, public health, museums and parks and even new roads and bridges.
Though Illinois may be an extreme example of a corruption tax, it is not unique. Sadly, many of our cities, counties and states are run by a select few people who are simply taking advantage of taxpayer money. The truth of the matter remains that we allow it to happen. Every day. For a culture of corruption to survive, you need enablers and minions who just go along with it and do nothing about it.
More people need to say "enough is enough" by blowing the whistle or getting involved with watchdog, anti-corruption organizations such as the Better Government Association, committed to identifying and ultimately reporting on taxpayer waste. Time and time again, we vote for a candidate we know nothing about - but liked their picture on a campaign ad, or the promises they made on a television commercial. Or maybe we didn't even vote at all because we just don't think it matters. Each one of us needs to take responsibility for the corruption occurring before our eyes. We are paying a tax for it daily. We need to vote responsibly and report what we know is wrong. Only then will we ever have a chance at restoring faith in government at all levels.
Andy Shaw is executive director of the Better Government Association.
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