The ethics bill that started it all

THE ETHICS BILL THAT STARTED IT ALL…. Federal investigators have been focused on Rod Blagojevich for several years, but it was a deeply ironic series of events three months ago that led to yesterday’s dramatic fall.

In a sequence of events that neatly captures the contradictions of Barack Obama’s rise through Illinois politics, a phone call he made three months ago to urge passage of a state ethics bill indirectly contributed to the downfall of a fellow Democrat he twice supported, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Mr. Obama placed the call to his political mentor, Emil Jones Jr., president of the Illinois Senate. Mr. Jones was a critic of the legislation, which sought to curb the influence of money in politics, as was Mr. Blagojevich, who had vetoed it. But after the call from Mr. Obama, the Senate overrode the veto, prompting the governor to press state contractors for campaign contributions before the law’s restrictions could take effect on Jan. 1, prosecutors say.

Tipped off to Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts, federal agents obtained wiretaps for his phones and eventually overheard what they say was scheming by the governor to profit from his appointment of a successor to the United States Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama. One official whose name has long been mentioned in Chicago political circles as a potential successor is Mr. Jones, a machine politician who was viewed as a roadblock to ethics reform but is friendly with Mr. Obama.

So, in an indirect way, Blagojevich’s fiasco may not have come to pass were it not for Obama’s commitment to ethics reform. Once Obama intervened and the bill became law, Blagojevich had to scramble to collect as many campaign contributions as possible before the law took effect. The governor’s efforts garnered the attention of federal investigators, who in turn tapped Blagojevich’s phone, which in turn produced stunning evidence of brazen corruption.

Noting all of this, the New York Times’ Mike Mcintire and Jeff Zeleny report that Obama’s intervention on the ethics issues “was a reminder that despite his historic ascendancy to the White House, he has never quite escaped the murky and insular world of Illinois politics.”

Really? Because when I read the article, it seemed like a reminder that despite his busy presidential campaign schedule, Obama has never quite given up on his commitment to ethics reform, especially in Illinois politics.

McIntire and Zeleny seem to have the right anecdote but have drawn the wrong conclusion. As Will Bunch noted, “Did it occur to them that maybe Obama was elected 44th president of the United States exactly because he HAS escaped ‘the murky and insular world of Illinois politics’?”