In no way is what I say meant to be an endorsement of the practice of selling Senate seats. But if a Governor sees a Senate vacancy as a financial opportunity, there are much smarter ways to take advantage of this than the approach of the guy going to prison.
Yesterday, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell President Obama’a senate seat. He made two tremendous mistakes. He was caught on tape saying that he would sell the seat in exchange for money. And he was willing to sell the seat for much less than it was worth.
Rich people have paid tens of millions of dollars to run for Senate. So there should have been someone willing to pay the equivalent to be appointed to the office. The fact that it was the President’s seat would also be a nice bonus, probably giving a nice edge to a Democratic appointee when it was time for the November 2010 election. At the time Blagojevich was arrested, few people saw the 2010 Republican landslide coming, and Illinois weathered it better than most states. Republican Mark Kirk was elected by less than two percent over a wealthy Democrat whose family bank failed in June 2010. Democrat Pat Quinn, Blagojevich’s successor, kept the Governor’s office in a close election over a moderate Republican. Any wealthy person appointed to Obama’s seat could reasonably expect to be the favorite when the seat was up for election.
If Blagojevich had hinted to the Pritzker family that he’s interested in appointing a Senator from their ranks, the former Governor and his wife would probably have six-figure no-show positions on some of their boards right now. It would have made them both millions soon enough. And I think it would have been done without anyone having to say anything that would be incriminating. He could have claimed that in these troubled economic times, someone with Moneybag Pritzker’s financial expertise was a welcome addition to the Senate. And the Prtizkers would have noted that a former Governor and his first lady are welcome addition to their boards.
Alexi Giannoulias, the State Treasurer at the time, and the 2010 Senate candidate, also came from a wealthy family, so they would probably have found some way to repay the favor. Blagoyevich could also have chosen someone who would have improved his legacy, perhaps a progressive who could have been the Illinois equivalent of Elizabeth Warren. One possibility would be to pick a respected far-left judge with an impeccable personal life and reputation. That type of bold move would probably have probably increased Blagoyevich’s speaker fees upon leaving the Governor’s Mansion, especially if he instituted a few other policies appealing to the Democratic base.
Instead, the Republicans’ favorite former Democratic Governor now has 71 days until his prison sentence begins. It wasn’t just that he was corrupt, but that he was incredibly stupid about it.