Wisconsin has been frequently visited by political scandal in recent years, and that's one good reason to take the advice the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave the other day and not get too smug about what's happening in Illinois.
Besides, the political crime ring that brought federal prosecutors to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's doorstep has tentacles that reach into Wisconsin. Nick Hurtgen, a former top aide to Tommy Thompson, is a central figure in the Illinois drama. He was indicted for his alleged role in a kickback scheme, then a judge dropped him from the case before he was reindicted late last year. Hurtgen has remained active in Wisconsin, making sizable donations to Mark Green's failed bid to become governor and maintaining close ties to another Republican known to covet the governor's office, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. But Hurtgen played both sides in Wisconsin, having helped organize a 2002 fundraiser in Chicago for Jim Doyle.
A check of the Democracy Campaign's database of campaign donors shows that another lead actor in the Illinois corruption scandal and indicted Friend of Rod, Blagojevich's close adviser and top fundraiser Christopher Kelly, gave Doyle $10,000 in June 2006. It was public knowledge that Kelly was under federal investigation at the time he made the donation. Even after he was indicted, Doyle kept the money. For more on Kelly, go here, here and here.
Such links alone ought to be enough to keep in check any superiority complex Wisconsin might have. But the biggest reason we cannot afford to be smug is that the real scandal is so much more vast than what the U.S. Attorney's office has on Rod Blagojevich.
The real scandal is what's perfectly legal in our political system.
It was perfectly legal for the investment bankers and insurance execs and real estate tycoons to spend over $430 million buying federal office holders in the 2008 election cycle alone. These interests have spent well over $2 billion to sew up Washington since 1990. What they bought was lax oversight and the freedom to roll the dice with other people's life savings. And a bailout when it all went sour. Even as tanking companies like AIG and Freddie Mac and Ford Motor Company were fixing to ask the feds to rescue them from themselves, they were showering money on both major parties to pick up the tab for the national conventions.
The same thing is perfectly legal at the state level in Wisconsin, albeit on a proportionately smaller scale.
That's why we cannot afford to be complacent. And why we cannot allow reform to be a scandal-driven undertaking.