Gov. Blagojevich was caught offering to trade a decision for a reward, personal or political. This is widely understood to be disgraceful and illegal.
But is it really so unusual? How does what Gov. Blagojevich did differ from the (bipartisan) extortion that is considered routine in Congress? Blagojevich sought $1 million; Congressional bribes cost billions.
House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year. ... To get them off the fence and on the bill, Democrats have a key weapon at their disposal: cold, hard cash. The bill contains billions...
Perhaps one might argue that Blagojevich sought personal benefit when he demanded campaign contributions in exchange for his vote. Perhaps. But earmarks are little more than incumbent slush funds - a de facto campaign contribution, paid for by US taxpayers. The effect is the same. (we are leaving aside, for the moment, the also-vexing issue of vote-trading)
The legislative bribery works two ways.
- Pork buys votes for the basic legislation (as described above), or...
- Legislation is leverage to get votes for otherwise unacceptable pork. After all, you can't vote against funding a spinach farm without voting against funding the troops; and you can't vote to fund the troops without voting for a few billion dollars worth of pork. Whatever the legislative rationale for these omnibus bills, they amount to extortion.
Yes, Gov. Blagojevich is a disgrace. But Gov. Blagojevich merely did what our US Congress does as a matter of routine.