Whether from observation or hands-on experience, by now Illinois politicians should know almost everything there is to know about political corruption. Public officials have to understand that the process of indictment, denial, contrition, and plea bargaining always ends with the same fate. So what’s the problem? Prison stopped working. Fear of the slammer doesn’t seem to deter political corruption, at least not in Illinois. Malfeasance in public office must still be worth the risk.
Stop punishing political corruption.
Instead of sending the likes of Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson, Jr. to prison, we should pin medals to their chests. When corrupt politicians are found guilty they should be given public money equal to two or three times the amount of their crime and be allowed to stay in office. With a little luck, taxpayers might lose less money than they do with the current slate of Democrats ruining Illinois (see: Are Illinois Democrats the Worst Politicians in America?). More important, it might get the public to care about the public trust instead of accepting what happens as business as usual. Hiding corruption behind bars doesn’t do that anymore.
Did voters give up on the public trust?
That Chicago voters elected Harold Washington as their mayor after he had done jail time for failing to file tax returns tells us how seriously citizens take politicians who break the law. Punishing corruption is a farce because too many Americans don’t care. So few taxpayers expect honesty from public officials and most of us in Illinois are so jaded by what goes on that the only way to make people pay attention is to so flagrantly violate the public trust by rewarding political corruption that even the most cynical are outraged. Otherwise, too many voters will simply ignore the criminal excesses enjoyed by those who run our federal, state, and local governments.
By rewarding corruption loudly and publicly maybe we will give more thought to who we put in office and why we tolerate political machines that back candidates who sell out the public trust. Don’t put crooked politicians in prison. Keep them on display for everyone to see.