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Globe Editorial

Not just Chicago-style

December 11, 2008
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ON MONDAY, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich invited "anybody" to tape his conversations. The FBI was already at it, and what agents say they heard was shocking: Not just an effort to shake down state contractors for campaign money. And not just an attempt to use state money to tamp down media criticism. An FBI affidavit released Tuesday also suggests that Blagojevich sought to auction off President-elect Barack Obama's former US Senate seat.

Chicago, one hears, has a tradition of corruption. More relevant than history, though, is a lax legal environment that invites "pay-to-play" politics. Last year, the Brennan Center for Justice criticized the state's lack of campaign contribution limits and the weakness of its disclosure system. Prosecutors say Blagojevich was scrambling for money before tighter rules take effect Jan. 1.

Until then, scrutiny by law enforcement - and the press - is the only check on abuses. We can't help but note the backhanded compliment that Blagojevich paid to the Chicago Tribune. Its editorials stung so badly, the affidavit indicates, that he tried to get the writer fired as a condition of state involvement in a deal involving the Tribune Co.

Political corruption has many homes. Speaking to The New York Times, one Illinois political scientist likened Blagojevich's style to a "big Chicago ward, where a US Senate seat is like granting a zoning variance or liquor license." But why should even small policy decisions be made for political or personal gain? In Massachusetts, the FBI has accused a former state senator and a Boston City Council member of taking bribes in a liquor licensing case.

The news from Illinois is extraordinary. But other states shouldn't count their blessings just yet.

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