Chicago politicians facing corruption charges are about the most Chicago thing you can think of. However, what goes into these corruption charges? Do all politicians bend and break the law like this? Are criminal charges related to corruption simply an indication that a specific politician has fallen out of favor with the local elites? These are all valid questions that you can ask, and unfortunately, we do not really have the answers to them. It may not necessarily even be clear to laypeople what is and is not illegal. In most of these criminal prosecutions, it isn’t necessarily clear to the defendants either, who almost always argue that their conduct was legal and did not constitute a crime.
What Happened Here?
Michael Madigan arranged for a political ally to receive a $22,000 payment from AT&T’s lobbying firm in exchange for a favorable vote on legislation that would have benefited AT&T. Is that legal? It depends on how it’s done. In this case, the individual who received the payment provided no work for AT&T. He simply received money as a chit for Madigan and his political allies to consolidate power. Now, it may not be apparent why this is valuable, but individuals like Madigan control people and their livelihoods and create networks of allies that consolidate power. If you think of it like a market, it becomes easier to understand. Madigan and his political allies sought to control the Illinois power market by consolidating power around themselves and their allies. Is that necessarily illegal? No. But brokering power in this way extorts money from businesses, reduces the competitive vigor of the market, and the general belief is that it makes things worse for everyone.
But isn’t paying money to pass legislation how the U.S. government works? Well, therein lies the problem. The lobbying system itself is an exception to the prevailing anti-corruption rules that we allow, and it throws a wrench in the entire system by creating an easy-to-exploit means of hiding unlawful transactions among lawful political exchanges. It makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to target bad actors, and it creates broad-scale confusion among the public over what is corruption and what is not. Obviously, allowing companies to bribe politicians with campaign donations is a system that is ripe for corruption. For example, if the defendants can prove that the individual who was being paid $22,000 to sit at AT&T and do nothing actually did provide some value to the company, Madigan may not be facing any charges related to this exchange.
At any rate, we will not be able to fix the defects of our American democracy in a blog post, so it is just best to move on. However, tackling corruption issues within Cook County and Illinois at large will mean eroding centuries worth of backroom dealing and wink-and-nod handshake deals that obviously work against American values such as the free market and market competition. Nor will it stop major companies from maneuvering their way into favorable legislation through pay-to-play schemes. But the guy being paid $22k a month may leave a paper trail of services rendered to avoid prosecution.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are a Chicago politician, you may need a Chicago criminal defense attorney. Call Chicago federal defense attorney David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.