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[Richard Painter, guest-blogging, March 24, 2009 at 1:51pm] Trackbacks
Ethics in Illinois:

I spent years listening to criticisms -- some fair, but many unfair -- of President Bush and members of his Administration. I was particularly troubled when government ethics was used as a political weapon instead of seen as a problem that both parties need to address (see page 267 of my book, Is Partisanship an Obstacle to Ethics Reform?). I do not agree with some of President Obama's policies (I worry that the dramatic expansion of government will create many problems for our Country including problems with government ethics). I strongly object, however, to using ethics as a political weapon against the President in circumstances where it is not justified.

I am still looking for convincing evidence that the President can be blamed for corruption of Chicago politicians. I don't see it. To the contrary, the President appears to have jumped ahead of many other Illinois Democrats because he was perceived to be both honest and intelligent, and voters wanted a change.

Both political parties in Illinois are to blame. Illinois may soon become the first state with two governors, one Republican and one Democrat, who serve their terms concurrently. Terms of incarceration that is. Governors Ryan and Blagojevich, if he is convicted, should consider sharing a cell; they can talk politics and perhaps learn more about bipartisanship. A Governor's Wing in an Illinois federal prison might also be appropriate because unless things change there will be future inmates with a similar pedigree.

I know something about Illinois politics because I lived there not only as a law professor in the late 1990's and early 2000's but also as a teenager in the 1970's, when Dan Walker (D) was Governor. Governor Walker later upheld an Illinois tradition by serving 18 months in prison for bank fraud.

Illinois, however, should be proud of a long line of politicians who rose to prominence despite corruption in the political parties that supported them. Adlai Stevenson, Adlai Stevenson III., Charles Percy, Paul Simon, Peter Fitzgerald, and many other names come to mind. The evidence suggests strongly that President Obama fits within this category.

Indeed, in 2004 it was corruption in the Illinois Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, that did the most for then State Senator Obama's career. Peter Fitzgerald, a first term Republican, held the U.S. Senate Seat, which he had won from Carol Moseley Braun. I got to know Senator Fitzgerald while I was teaching at the University of Illinois. He was a fine Senator, but he did not always do what made him popular.

Fitzgerald had jumped in line ahead of Republican machine politicians and in office he stood up to them. He insisted that the Lincoln Library at the University of Illinois not be used for political patronage by Governor Ryan. With a bribery scandal brewing in the Governor's office, Senator Fitzgerald asked President Bush to appoint a United States Attorney who would prosecute Republicans as well as Democrats for political corruption (Patrick Fitzgerald, who is no relation to the Senator, got the job, and then did his job which eventually landed the Governor in prison). Governor Ryan's Republican machine made it clear that there would be a primary challenge to Senator Fitzgerald in 2004. Fitzgerald probably would have survived, but he would have had to spend millions of his own money to keep the seat. He called it quits.

The Republicans then found a nominee named Jack Ryan (no relation to the Governor). Things looked good until the Democrats found Ryan's divorce papers in a California court file (the Republicans did not think to look into the divorce before nominating Ryan). When the divorce papers revealed tales of Paris s&m bars and other salacious material, Ryan was finished (that kind of thing does not fly downstate where the Republican votes are).

At that point, I strongly suggested that the Illinois Republican Party look to its younger generation of rising stars, perhaps State Representative Chapin Rose (R -- Mahomet). Even if it lost the seat, the Party would have a chance to showcase honesty and intellectual gravitas in its younger ranks. This suggestion was ignored. For a while it looked as if a dogcatcher, provided it was Governor Ryan's dogcatcher, could get the nomination. I even considered making a go for it on a reform platform -- but I knew that my talents, whatever they might be, lay elsewhere.

The Republicans did worse than the dog catcher. Alan Keyes is a bright man with interesting ideas, but he ran a lackluster campaign, most of it from offices out of state. State Senator Obama was destined to score a blowout, winning the entire State by margins Democrats had thus far achieved only in Chicago. He was going to be the star of the 2004 Democratic convention. The rest is history.

I have since left Illinois, but I am saddened by the fact that so many governors and other Illinois politicians have headed off to jail over so many years, and politicians who are corrupt remain in office. Many Illinois politicians are not corrupt, but they tolerate corruption. Some, including now President Obama and State Representative Rose whom I mentioned earlier and who served on the committee that impeached Governor Blagojevich, speak out against corruption. The fact that these people serve in the Illinois legislature with some corrupt colleagues -- or that they may meet some corrupt people along the way — should not be held against them unless we do not want anybody honest going into politics in Illinois. Regardless of party affiliation, I hope we can look back with pride upon the era of Stevenson and Percy, be grateful in the present for President Obama's commitment to ethics whether or not we agree with his policies, and look forward to a new more ethically fit generation of leaders in Illinois and around the Country. This has nothing to do with being a Republican -- it has everything to do with being an American.

David M. Nieporent (www):
Alan Keyes is a bright man with interesting ideas,
"Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter."
3.24.2009 2:12pm
Bill reynolds (mail):
Don't forget John Peter Altgeld! The best governor Illinois ever had (granted, the competition aint fierce).
3.24.2009 2:13pm
Calderon:
When the divorce papers revealed tales of Paris s&m bars and other salacious material, Ryan was finished (that kind of thing does not fly downstate where the Republican votes are).

As I recall, it wasn't even all that salacious (at least not to me). Maybe I'm misremembering (and I'm too lazy to Google it), but I thought the two biggest issues were that Jack Ryan wanted to have a three-some with his ex-wife and another woman and wanted to have sex in public in this Paris bar with his ex-wife (which was permitted over there), and his ex-wife did not want to do either of those things. It's probably also worth noting that both Jack Ryan and his former wife Jeri Ryan wanted the divorce files to remained sealed but an Obama supporter convinced the judge to open them.

But this event does make you wonder about the randomness of history. I believe at the time the divorce records were unsealed Ryan and Obama were either tied in the polls or Obama had a slight lead. If Jack Ryan had prevailed, Obama gets handed his second electoral loss for federal office, and maybe Obama's star is dimmed and he's no longer seen as a viable candidate for federal office (and especially not president).
3.24.2009 2:17pm
Bob White (mail):
My recollection, which generally matches Calderon's, is that Jack Ryan and Jeri Ryan requested their divorce files be kept sealed, ostensibly to avoid shame to their minor children but probably also to avoid professional embarrassment on both sides (primarily his), but they were unsealed pursuant to journalist request. Also unsealed against the request of the parties were Blair Hull's divorce papers; Hull, you may recall, was the leading the U.S. Senate Illinois Democratic primary in 2004 a week before the election, before the papers were unsealed. Potentially interesting hypotheticals, up there with Nixon winning the 1962 CA gubernatorial race (which at a minimum probably means Reagan doesn't run and win in '66).

Offhand, it's very difficult to think of somebody worse the Republicans could have nominated as Ryan's replacement than Alan Keyes. I watched the 2004 election returns with a group of committed Republicans/anti-Democrats, and hardly a one voted for Keyes.

Sometimes I wonder about Peter Fitzgerald and Govs. Edgar and Thompson, etc.-did they really manage to rise above the cesspool, or did they get away with it or learn to skirt the edge without falling in?
3.24.2009 2:31pm
Vanceone:
If you want evidence of Obama and corruption, it's not hard to find.

1) Rezko and the house deal. Sure, the various 'progressives" around will screech to high heaven that Obama is pure and innocent as the driven snow.... but how many of us have convicted felons for friends who just happen to want to take a massive financial bath on a house for us?

2) Michelle Obama getting a raise--just in time for an Obama earmark to her place of employment.

3) Millions in earmarks for parks, etc in Obama's district. The companies haven't done a darn thing except contribute to Obama's election fund. Certainly the parks aren't built!

4) Sure seems fishy that Obama is the one politician in Chicago history that made it out of there clean and pure. Particularly since Obama has not shown any type of backbone to avoid payoffs, etc.
3.24.2009 2:31pm
Calderon:
Bob White said


Offhand, it's very difficult to think of somebody worse the Republicans could have nominated as Ryan's replacement than Alan Keyes. I watched the 2004 election returns with a group of committed Republicans/anti-Democrats, and hardly a one voted for Keyes.


That's probably true, but Jack Ryan's withdrawal was late in the contest. The other Republican contenders from the primaries saw that trying to start up a campaign at that point was a lost cause. Thus, none of them wanted the nomination just to go down in flames. As I recall, the Republican Party tried to get the primary contenders and various other Illinois Republican politicians to run, they all refused, and so Keyes became the nominee because no one else wanted the position.
3.24.2009 2:43pm
rosetta's stones:
Mr. Painter,

I don't have a dog in this fight, but Obama appears to be a classic machine politician, and his real estate deal appears to implicate him in that machine's machinations. And McCain would have never been considered for higher office, had his longtime ethical complications been openly considered. Neither one was subjected to that scrutiny, it would appear.

You may feel compelled, in the course of your work, to speak up for a political class with which you feel kinship. If so, you should release yourself from that compulsion, because it's a burden on your work, and it doesn't serve the people well, as we see in the quality of the 2 above candidates.

It's good that you're seeking a coherent process, but as for the politicians involved, people are pretty smart, and don't need to be scolded as to what they should and should not think about them. Just identify parameters and points of disclosure, and we'll take it from there.

And I'm assuming we can get along without any single one of the individual personalities, so no need to stand guard over anyone.
3.24.2009 2:50pm
Dan Hamilton:
You are assuming that Obama is inocent until proven guilty.

But we are talking about Chicago politics. Obama went from community organizer to State Senate far to fast not to have been backed by the Chicago Machine. That means that Obama at the very least turned a blind eye to what the machine was doing. He never tried to reform anything about the Chicago Machine, he needed it to launch him into the State and then the US Senate.

Also remember the CAC that Obama chaired. CAC gave out $150 million to leftest organizations to help Chicago schools. When CAC later did an evaluation, they found that NOTHING was accomplished that helped the schools. Obama payed off and made friend with people that would support him later.

This is NOT the resume of an inocent man but the resume of a Chicago Machine politicion.
3.24.2009 2:58pm
Dave N (mail):
Illinois may soon become the first state with two governors, one Republican and one Democrat, who serve their terms concurrently.
Funniest political quote I have read today.

I also remember things the way Calderon did--and the S&M angle (if accurate) is new to me.

As long as we are playing alternative realities in politics, I have two others, both involving Dick Cheney.

1) If Democrats had voted to confirm John Tower as Secretary of Defense, then Dick Cheney would not have been his replacement. Dick Cheney was House Minority Whip, and his resignation led to the rise of an outspoken Georgia backbencher named New Gingrich.

Would the Republicans have captured Congress in 1994 without the Contract With America? Would Cheney have become Speaker of the House?

2) I still think that Dick Cheney was a last minute replacement for Paul Coverdell in 2000 (Coverdell was a Georgia Senator who died less than 2 weeks before the Republican National Convention and on paper seemed like a good fit as a running mate for George W. Bush). If I am right and Coverdell had lived, would a Bush-Coverdell ticket have done better or worse than Bush-Cheney? And assuming Bush's election, would Coverdell have had the same influence as Cheney?
3.24.2009 3:12pm
josil (mail):
Mr Painter,
If you are going to name the few Chicago and Illinois politicians who have risen to prominence deservedly, you should not omit Paul Douglas who resigned from office to join the Marines as a private in WW2 at age 50(!). He was wounded in two Pacific battles. Compare that with any U.S. Senator from Illinois or, for that matter, any other state. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Douglas for bio. Douglas also represents a sterling example for academics who might serve their country in non-political roles.
3.24.2009 3:36pm
Jason F:
You guys are funny, talking about the "Chicago Machine" as if you understand it. Here's a hint for you: there was a machine candidate in the 2004 Democratic Senatorial Primary, but it sure as hell was not Barack Obama.
3.24.2009 3:51pm
ravenshrike:
Um, Jason, hate to break it to you, but the Democratic Machine and the Chicago Machine are two different animals and the Democratic Machine is the latecomer to the party. As for ethics in Illinois, a politician who follows a decent code of ethics in Illinois occurs about as often as Wookies on Endor.
3.24.2009 4:15pm
BGates:
the President appears to have jumped ahead of many other Illinois Democrats because he was perceived to be both honest and intelligent
vs
Fitzgerald had jumped in line ahead of Republican machine politicians and in office he stood up to them. He insisted that the Lincoln Library at the University of Illinois not be used for political patronage by Governor Ryan. With a bribery scandal brewing in the Governor's office, Senator Fitzgerald asked President Bush to appoint a United States Attorney who would prosecute Republicans as well as Democrats for political corruption (Patrick Fitzgerald, who is no relation to the Senator, got the job, and then did his job which eventually landed the Governor in prison). Governor Ryan's Republican machine made it clear that there would be a primary challenge to Senator Fitzgerald in 2004.

Fitzgerald's efforts to clean up the state were such a threat to entrenched powers that they decided to get rid of him. Obama managed to be "perceived to be honest" without generating any such opposition.
3.24.2009 5:07pm
LibertyCowboy:
The Republicans in Illinois chose to continue Ryan's corruption under Judy Bar Topinka, who was Ryan's treasurer. Her corruption was part of the reason Blagoavich was elected and the Greens got >10% of the vote. I haven't folowed their politics as much since I left IL, but I'm sure she'll be in jail eventually if she isn't there already.

The Democrats' corrupt machine is obviously led by Mayor Dailey, who apparently can openly violate the law without consequence. The people of IL knew Blagoavich was corrupt when they elected him. I half expected them to say "So What?" when he was caught selling the seat, but I guess it was embarassing.

Keys, while not corrupt, was never considered a credible cantidate. While I think Obama is so wealthy he never even considered taking a bribe, his refusal to debate Keys, Jerry Kohn, and Al Franzen, (who debated each other) has led me to question his integrity generally. Maybe he just doesn't like debates.

Since the Democrat and Republican parties in Illinois are likley to remain corrupt indefinatley, a voter there who opposes corruption might prefer a third party or independnet cantidate. However, since the overwhelming majority of Illinois voters openly prefer corrupt cantidates, it's probably better just to leave the state and never come back, like I did.
3.24.2009 6:37pm
Visitor Again:

"However, since the overwhelming majority of Illinois voters openly prefer corrupt cantidates, it's probably better just to leave the state and never come back, like I did."

++++++++++++++++

According to some VC posters/commenters, this is federalism at its finest; it allows people to vote with their feet after they've lost the vote by ballot.

And somewhat like Senator Hruska said of mediocrities' entitlement to representation on the Supreme Court, shouldn't lovers/fans of corruption have representation, too--a special place where they're the majority and can put the corrupt in office? Federalism allows for this, yet another of its many fine features.

Is this a great country or what?
3.24.2009 7:40pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
1) There is no "Chicago Machine". There is a party organization, but it does not operate the way it did under Daley I. In those days, a "slating committee" endorsed a Democrat candidate for every office. All "organization" Democrats worked for them, and against any "independent" who dared run for office without such approval. The slating committee was abolished at least ten years ago, and the organization does not try to control every office. The Republicans are extinct, so all real contests are among Democrats. One can hold office without actively serving the organization; one can even be somewhat of a reformer.

2) One can be a "liberal" without fighting the organization. The Daley I Machine was anti-liberal in some key areas (race especially). Under Daley II, the "organization" has largely embraced the liberal agenda (Green this, Arts that, gay t'other, gun control whatever) and defused most liberal opposition.

3) Thus one can hold office in Chicago (state office especially), be for a long list of respectable liberal goals, not explicitly cash in, and still do nothing about the corruption.

4) Obama is from Hyde Park, which historically was a bastion of resistance to the old Machine. Thus he had the reform cachet without actually being a reformer.

That's Obama's career in a nutshell. He got into the state Senate through the endorsement of the previous incumbent. (She later tried to withdraw it, but the election was already set.) No one challenged him for re-election. When he ran statewide, he faced a flake (Hull) and two notorious organization stalwarts (Hynes and Pappas). His race got him the black vote, and he split the white vote. He went off to Washington, removing himself from direct contact with Chicago affairs.
3.24.2009 8:23pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
To complete the point of the previous comment. Obama is not personally corrupt, but he spent many years in close association with corruption, and never opposed it.
3.24.2009 8:26pm
geokstr:

He got into the state Senate through the endorsement of the previous incumbent. (She later tried to withdraw it, but the election was already set.)

Uhh...that's not exactly the way the right-wing extremist network, CNN, reported it in May of 2008:
Obama played hardball in first Chicago campaign

Notable excerpts:
"In his first race for office, seeking a state Senate seat on Chicago's gritty South Side in 1996, Obama effectively used election rules to eliminate his Democratic competition.

As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of voters. But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.

The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot. It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district.

"That was Chicago politics," said John Kass, a veteran Chicago Tribune columnist. "Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy, right? It is how Barack Obama destroyed his enemies back in 1996 that conflicts with his message today. He may have gotten his start registering thousands of voters. But in that first race, he made sure voters had just one choice."

"...Palmer supporters, who did not want to be identified, said that she never anointed Obama as her successor and that the retelling of the story by Obama supporters is designed to distract from the fact he muscled his way into office."

"...back at the time he was running for state Senate, Askia (one of his opponents) said, he was dismayed Obama would use such tactics.

"It wasn't honorable," he said. "I wouldn't have done it."

He said the Obama team challenged every single one of his petitions on "technicalities."

If names were printed instead of signed in cursive writing, they were declared invalid. If signatures were good but the person gathering the signatures wasn't properly registered, those petitions also were thrown out.

Askia came up 69 signatures short of the required number to be on the ballot."

"Kass, the Chicago Tribune columnist, said the national media are naive when it comes to Chicago politics, which is a serious business.

He said they have bought into a narrative that Obama is strictly a reformer. The truth, Kass says, is that he is a bare-knuckled politician. And using the rules to win his first office is part of who Obama is."
3.25.2009 3:33pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
geokstr: You are generally correct, though it is my understanding that Palmer did in fact endorse Obama; IIRC she was present at the meeting in Ayers' and Dohrn's living room. What I meant by "the election was already set" was that Palmer tried to backtrack and run for re-election at the last moment; she did not have time to get adequate petitions filed. Yes, Obama challenged her petitions (and those of the other two flakes). But I didn't want to get into all that detail. However, note that no other serious candidates filed. Obama's election was greased for him - by Palmer. The Daley organization didn't care, since Obama wasn't going to make trouble for them. Neither did they push him: as I wrote before, there is no "Machine" any more.
3.25.2009 10:28pm

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