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PSN on April 20, 2006 - 11:26am
Republican Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was convicted this week on eighteen counts, including racketeering, mail fraud, false statements, and tax violations. His crime? Selling out the public for profit gain. While the Governor awaits sentencing -- his crimes may earn him as much as ten-twenty years in federal prison -- his case offers lessons for all of us.
As the Governor's corruption problems became more apparent, he became nationally known for imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, at a time when concern over false convictions became a concern nationwide. The action earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. But many observers now wonder if it was much more than a public relations move by a politician in trouble.
Perhaps no case better exemplifies the potential harm of Ryan-style corruption as much as that of the Willis family of Wisconsin. In 1994, six of the nine children in the Willis family were killed by an accident involving a truck driver who illegally purchased his driver's license from George Ryan's office when he was serving as Secretary of State. As the Chicago Tribune reports, "The Willis crash launched a federal investigation of bribes paid in exchange for drivers licenses after the family's attorney highlighted the issue."
What is most amazing is that, even given the extent of Ryan's apparent transgressions, his name would be nowhere near the top of the list of politicians identified publicly with a culture of corruption. It is a culture, as Illinois observers have noted, that extends all too far. The Department of Justice deserves credit for their hard work to expose the corruption in this case. But the case highlights more than ever, the need to fight corruption in the states.
Next month, with an array of coalition partners, we are hosting the "Cleaning Up Our Statehouses" Conference in Concord, NH. The topics of conversation will range from reforming how elections are financed to effective limitations on pay-to-play contracting. Registration is now open. Space is limited. Lunch is free. We hope to see you there.