making local government more ethical

Concern About Corruption in Illinois

Politics may be local for politicians, but is it for citizens? The 2009 Joyce Foundation Illinois Survey shows that in January the people of Illinois were more concerned about corruption in government than about the economy. Last January only 49% of those polled were extremely concerned about corruption; now 61% are (and 50% are extremely concerned about the economy, as opposed to 45% the year before).

What changed?

According to a recent anti-corruption report, since 1970, 1,000 politicians and business people in Illinois have been convicted of public corruption crimes, an average of 26 a year. That includes 3 governors and 30 Chicago aldermen (the report gives at least a page to each of the aldermen).

So what's new in Illinois? National media attention to former governor Rod Blagojevich. Local media coverage, not to mention common knowledge, was not enough to get Illinois citizens to be overly concerned with corruption, not to mention vote the bums out of office (although it might have been hard to find non-bums to vote in; Blagojevich was, after all, a reform candidate).

Here's an interesting question that was asked relating to this: Do you think Governor Blagojevich’s alleged behavior is an unusual and extreme case of corruption or do you think this type of behavior is common among public officials in Illinois? (WAIT FOR RESPONSE) Do you believe this strongly or somewhat?

And the answers:

Strongly Unusual & Extreme 23%
Somewhat Unusual & Extreme 16%
Somewhat Common 20%
Strongly Common 38%
DK/ REF 3%

So most people believed that Blagojevich was not off the charts, at least in terms of his values, e.g., What's in it for me? But national media coverage was enough to make a substantial difference in the public's attitude toward corruption.

The question is, is the concern with corruption enough to get better ethics, lobbying, open government, and campaign finance laws in Illinois?

For more on ethics issues in Illinois, see the following blog entries:
A City Where "We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent"
A New Punch Line in Cook County's Patronage Joke
A Must-Read Editorial
Blagojevich's Realtor Wife and Lobbyist Tipper

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics