Pay-to-play politics rampant

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is an idiot. Knowing the feds may have bugged his office and home and tapped his phone, he persisted in soliciting bribes, strong-arming people for campaign donations, extorting The Chicago Tribune to change the makeup of its editorial board and trying to sell President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Federal prosecutors Tuesday charged Gov. Blagojevich, a Democrat, with conspiracy and attempted bribery. They say he sought personal enrichment and political gain in exchange for government jobs, contracts and appointments to boards and commissions. It's all outrageous, and we condemn it. But except for his more brazen and profane approach to getting what he wanted and except for getting caught, how is what he is accused of materially different from the winks and nods of the everyday state and federal pay-to-play politics? Isn't he merely guilty of running his "spoils system"? It will be interesting to see if prosecutors can make the charges stick.

The public outrage, no matter how naive, is justified, but we fear it's drawing attention from the other offensive intrigues arising from his arrest.

Illinois lawmakers plan to have a special election to fill the Senate vacancy rather than let Gov. Blagojevich name someone. But the law in effect when Mr. Obama resigned said the governor makes the appointment. Passing an unconstitutional ex post facto law would be far worse than the government corruption it purports to address.

Mr. Obama says he never discussed the Senate vacancy with Gov. Blagojevich or his staff. But clearly there is enough history between the two that even without consulting him, the governor had reason to believe Mr. Obama would go along with his scheme to cut a deal that would secure him an U.S. ambassadorship or a job in the Obama Cabinet.

Prosecutors say they learned through wiretaps that Gov. Blagojevich was soliciting bribes from would-be senators. Why didn't those he solicited report it to the feds?

The cash-strapped Tribune Co. was receptive to and covered up coercive overtures from Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, who demanded the firing of five editorial board members in exchange for the governor's help in arranging $100 million in tax breaks to facilitate the Tribune's sale of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. That the Tribune officials would assure the governor through back channels that it "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue" raises serious doubts about the entire Tribune newspaper chain's independence and objectivity.