Illinois governor goes from reformer to defendant
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest was surprising and the charges unexpected, but it’s no shock that he’s in legal trouble. The Chicago Democrat has faced allegations of misconduct and ethical violations almost since the day he was elected on a promise to clean up Illinois government.
Like the man he replaced in the governor’s office — current prison inmate George Ryan — Blagojevich soon found himself under the eye of federal prosecutors. His public support plummeted as his links to corruption grew.
Nearly every facet of the governor’s life wound up under scrutiny: his wife’s real estate business, a $1,500 gift to his daughter, his father-in-law’s accusations of misconduct, his friends’ help in choosing his government appointees, his flights around the state.
Blagojevich has at times retreated from public view, reluctant to hold events where reporters might ask him about the litany of allegations against him. But if the charges brought against him Tuesday are correct, Blagojevich acted illegally long after it was clear he was being watched and former allies were talking to prosecutors.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago says it has Blagojevich on tape scheming just days ago about ways to benefit from his power to pick President-elect Barack Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.
The FBI said in court papers that the governor was overheard conspiring to sell the Senate seat for campaign cash or lucrative jobs for himself or his wife. He spoke of using the Senate appointment to land a job with a nonprofit foundation or a union-affiliated group, or even getting a high-level position in the Obama administration.
Blagojevich was arrested on two counts: conspiracy to commit fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and solicitation to commit bribery, which is punishable by up 10 years. He was led away from his home in handcuffs Tuesday morning.
It’s a bizarre development for someone originally seen as a reformer.
Blagojevich, then a little-known member of Congress, was elected in 2002 on a promise to shake up Springfield after Ryan’s corrupt term and 26 years of Republican control.
During his first year in office, Blagojevich helped pass ethics legislation adding new inspectors to investigate corruption, restricting gifts from lobbyists and limiting taxpayer-funded public service announcements that feature politicians.
At the same time, he used a state plane to fly to a political fundraising event, put friend and donor Christopher Kelly, a private citizen, in charge of negotiations over a casino license and tried to give a position on the state tollway board to the head of a union group that had given him $100,000.
The misconduct allegations grew from there: appointing campaign donors to boards and commissions, circumventing veterans-preference laws in hiring, giving contracts to political supporters.
Blagojevich also hit turbulence in his management of state government.
He has argued bitterly with state lawmakers and defied them by expanding programs without permission or calling endless special sessions. State auditors harshly criticized misspending at his Department of Central Management Services. He has never been able to explain how his administration gave a $1 million grant to the wrong organization.