This week I want to talk about government corruption. Actually, I’d much prefer to talk about how BYU laid the beat down to USU last Saturday, but that would be talking about justice and that’s the opposite of corruption. And today we’re talking corruption.
Fresh off the wire is the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Bluh-goy-uh-vich on federal corruption charges. The FBI snatched the Governor at his own residence, cuffed him, and stuffed him in one of those shiny, unmarked black cars reserved for really creepy important people.
It seems that Bluh-goy-uh-vich…wait, let’s stop for a second…this guy’s name is Bluh-goy-uh-vich…and he’s the Governor of Illinois. Bluh-goy-uh-vich…sounds more like Vlad the Impaler or one of those Serbian goons. So, anyway, Bluh-goy-uh-vich had this neat idea. With Senator Obama on his way to the White House, the state governor gets to pick his successor. Bluh-goy-uh-vich said…and I’m not kidding when I quote him…he said the Senate is “a [naughty word] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.” Now, he just didn’t think that or say that to his closest advisors. He said that over the phone, which was wiretapped by the FBI.
Bluh-goy-uh-vich went on to say that unless he gets something really good out this appointment – meaning lots of cash – “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me…you know, therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I’m saying…if I don’t get what I want…then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”
The U.S. Attorney serving Illinois remarked that, “The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering. They allege that Bluh-goy-uh-vich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices.”
Now that last allegation is sort of fun, actually. As the story goes, Governor What-don’t-you-understand-about-cash-payment went to the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune and demanded that they fire two editorialists who had been critical of him. In return, Bluh-goy-uh-vich would help the Tribune sell Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. Clearly, this guy has some stones. Unfortunately for him they’re rattling around in his head.
Let’s bring this home.
I’ve talked before about my friend Quinn McKay. He’s like an ethics doctor. Right before KVNU had him on the radio last week, Quinn spoke to a small group of elected officials at the Sutherland office in Salt Lake. As a part of that presentation, Quinn raised what he calls the Law of Obligation. The Law of Obligation says that when someone does something for you, you feel some sense of obligation to do something for them.
Far from inherently nefarious, this Law of Obligation is quite human. All of us live it. It’s central to our personal relationships as well as our business relationships. And it’s also like fire – it can used for good or for evil. In politics, the Law of Obligation can lead to several unintended consequences – like selling Senate appointments. Even for honest politicians, the Law of Obligation creates moral and ethical dilemmas. Is a campaign contribution a sincere showing of support or is it an opportunity to influence a candidate? What about a personal gift? Many registered lobbyists in Utah are also personal friends of state legislators. Is a Christmas gift from a registered lobbyist to a state legislator simply a present from a personal friend or is it also an opportunity to reinforce a political relationship?
These, and many other questions, will be answered in the upcoming session of the Utah State Legislature. Utah isn’t immune to political corruption, but we should be pleased that Utah hasn’t seen the likes of a Bluh-goy-uh-vich. You know, now that I think about it, maybe the Illinois motto – the Land of Lincoln – is up for sale. The whole greatest snow on earth
thing is getting old for me. I’m sure Bluh-goy-uh-vich would sell it for cheap about now.
For the Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.