Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D-Ill.) indictment this week was astonishing in the depth and breadth of the alleged personal corruption. Blagojevich treated the governor's office like a store -- selling political favors for various forms of financial gain.
But more than the personal corruption, this is also a story about campaign finance. Blagojevich wanted to raise money for his campaigns and was seemingly willing to do anything for it. Here are just three examples culled from just six weeks of wiretaps:
1. Putting children's health up for sale.
One of the more egregious allegations -- and that's saying something -- is that Blagojevich reportedly demanded $50,000 in campaign contributions from the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in return for $8 million in funding for a state medical care initiative to treat poor sick children in the state.
While families were trying to figure out how their kid was going to be treated for the chicken pox, Blagojevich was concerned about how he was going to raise campaign cash.
2. Selling a Senate seat.
Blagojevich wasn't interested in appointing the most qualified person to replace President-elect Obama. He wanted something in return. And according to his expletive-laden remarks, appreciation and a slap on the back weren't going to cut it.
So what did the person have to do? Under one scenario, the person appointed to replace Obama would have to agree to raise a significant amount of money for the governor's re-election campaign, a half million in one case, a million, supposedly, in another.
3. Contracts for donations.
Blagojevich kept a list of favored contractors -- friends, people that had given him money over time. When contracts became available, the governor consulted this list to decide who got the contract or who needed to donate just a little bit more to be chosen.
The governor was set to award $1.8 billion for a Tollway project. To make sure the governor got something out of the deal, he allegedly demanded a highway contractor raise $500,000 for his campaign.
Blagojevich needs to step down. It's hard to have faith in a man elected as a reformer caught on tape selling state contracts for personal enrichment. People don't go into politics corrupt, but the system sure is corrupting. From the day someone wins their seat, they are worried whether they will have enough money to win their next one. In Blagojevich's case, he seemed willing to do anything to get the money.
Congress and lawmakers across the country need to dramatically change the way politics works in America. It's time to reform the system to make elections about voters and not campaign cash and pass Fair Elections, or full public financing of elections, that's working successfully in seven states and two cities.
Fair Elections would end the pressure on candidates to raise large donations and give them more time to get out in their districts and talk to voters. While public financing won't eradicate blind ambition or bloated egos, it will make a political class more accountable to voters instead of big campaign contributors and take out a key thoroughfare for corruption.
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