Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Star: Enact Reforms To Head Off Illinois-Like Scandal

An Indianapolis Star editorial thinks state law changes calling for a cooling off period for ex-lawmakers who want to become lobbyists and further restrictions on gifts are needed to help avoid the type of scandal Illinois experienced yesterday when its governor was hauled off by federal agents in handcuffs for trying to sell off anything that wasn't nailed down. "Indiana has not had a political scandal rise anywhere close to that level in decades," the editorial reads. "Still, it would be wise for Hoosiers and their elected leaders to view the corruption that has befallen Illinois as a cautionary tale."

I can't argue with the Star editorial about the need for these lobbyist reforms; however, those reforms will do little to stem the pay-to-play problem. Pay-to-play is as part of the process in Indiana as it is in Illinois. There is one reason and one reason alone that there have not been prosecutions here. Indiana doesn't have a Patrick Fitzgerald in the U.S. Attorney's office to keep corrupt politicians in line. The Marion County Prosecutor's Office is a lost cause when it comes to combating political corruption. If we don't have a tough U.S. Attorney, nothing happens.

Every time there is a change in presidential administrations, the senior senator of the party in control of the White House makes a recommendation to the president on who to appoint as U.S. Attorney for the northern and southern districts of Indiana. While the northern district in recent years has had prosecutors willing to take on corrupt politicians, the southern district is another story. Whether Sen. Richard Lugar made the recommendation or Sen. Evan Bayh made the recommendation, the person nominated for the U.S. Attorney's post has always been someone with close ties to the political establishment and often possessing little in the way of prosecutorial experience. When Sen. Obama's predecessor in Illinois made his recommendation to President Bush for the Chicago U.S. Attorney's office, he searched beyond Illinois' borders for the best, tough-minded prosecutor he could find who was completely free of local political influence. He found Patrick Fitzgerald, who has not let the people of Illinois down.

If the Star really wanted to end pay-to-play politics, it would be pressuring Sen. Evan Bayh heavily to seek out an independent prosecutor who will hold politicians feet to the fire to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the southern district in Indianapolis. It should also go beyond advocating lobbyist reforms to further campaign finance reform. Government contractors should not be allowed to make political contributions to the elected executives whose offices award the contracts. I'm sure Gov. Daniels would insist that pay-to-play doesn't happen in his administration, but there is little confidence one can get from reviewing his campaign committee's campaign finance reports that pay-to-play isn't occurring. Similarly, Mayor Greg Ballard completely dirtied himself up as soon as he took office by throwing a million-dollar fundraising bash attended largely by persons and businesses doing business with the City of Indianapolis.

So let's make some much-needed lobbying and campaign-finance related reforms, but let us also back those changes up with a tough prosecutor. Trust but verify, I should say.


M Theory said...

Excellent editorial, Gary. Thanks. I always learn a lot here.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Amen, Gary, amen. I tried to say pretty much the same thing on my blog, but you did it in a much more consise manner. You hit the mark on this one.

I especially would like to ditto the suggested ban on government officials receiving campaign contributions from companies that are awarded or seeking a privatization contract from the government official.

Indy4U2C said...

Can we give Lake County & Rep. (cough, choke, puke) Charlie Brown to the State of Illinois?

Maybe then justice will be served!