Alex Massie

A Scandal in Springfield

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Sometimes it's useful to remember that, despite everything, British politics is, on the whole, markedly less corrupt than politics elsewhere. That, of course, explains why so many of our scandals are disappointingly third or fourth rate. They do things differently in America. Today' entertainment comes courtesy of Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, who has been arrested on charges of, inter alia, conspiring to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Great stuff:

Federal prosecutors have investigated Blagojevich's administration for at least three years. The governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich also sought promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice. Blagojevich is accused of saying on November 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he would appoint himself to the post.

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," the affidavit quotes the governor as saying.

He noted becoming a U.S. senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quotes Blagojevich telling an adviser later that day that a Senate seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing." In a conversation with Harris on November 4, the day of the election, Blagojevich is alleged to have compared his situation to that of a sports agent shopping a potential free agent to the highest bidder. On November 5, Blagojevich allegedly told an adviser, "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it....

The charges also state that in a conversation with Harris on November 11, Blagojevich said he knew that President-elect Obama wanted a specific candidate for the open Senate seat but added "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them."

Whole indictment here. Balgojevixh, of course, was elected on a "reforming" platform after his predecessor, George Ryan, was sentenced to six years' imprisonment on racketeering charges. That made Ryan the third Illinois governor in 35 years to go to gaol. 

As so often, however, the scandal is just as much a matter of what's legal as what's not. I don't really understand why Governors have the power to select Senators anyway. What's wrong with having a by-election? That ought not to be beyond the wit of man, even in Florida. As it is, the current system is an invitation to corruption and, of course, nepotism. Look, for instance, at the whispers that Caroline Kennedy should, for reasons unknown, be rewarded with Hillary Clinton's old seat in New York. Look too, at how Joe Biden's seat is being kept warm for his son Beau. At the very least, none of this is change you can believe in.

It's all rather reminiscent of Irish politics, where seats in parliament are inherited and the whole system is cheerfully corrupt. But no-one in Ireland considers the Dail the world's :greatest deliberative body". And it's one thing for the Senate to be shielded - notionally at least - from the turbulence of public opinion, quite another for it to be selected in this fashion.

I assume, and hope readers will correct me if I'm wrong, that the gubernatorial power to select a replacement Senator is a hangover from the days when the Senate was indirectly-elected. That is, from the time when state legislatures selected the lucky fellow chosen to go to Washington and bring back the pork. But that was then and this is now and there's no really good reason - is there?  -why you can't have a special election to fill these positions.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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