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.