History Is Interesting


Jeffery Toobin reminds us (or in my case, informed me) of the former Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner Jr., whose corruption came to light when somebody tried to deduct a bride they paid him from their taxes. Cost of doing business and all.

Otto Kerner, Jr., is usually remembered, if he is at all, as the leader of the Kerner Commission, in 1968, which evaluated the riots and other unrest that was then rocking American cities. He was governor of Illinois at the time, and went on to serve as a federal appeals court judge, but his later claim to fame may be of greater historical note. In 1969, he was charged in a corruption case where he and a subordinate received bribes from a racetrack owner in return for an expanded racing schedule. That particular scandal came to light because the owner tried to deduct the value of the bribes on her taxes. Paying bribes to the governor was, in her view, an ordinary business expense in Illinois in the late nineteen-sixties.

I don't know nearly enough history to have any perspective on the prevalence of public corruption now vis-a-vis the rest of American history.

On the one hand, it seems that political machines and party bosses have had their power drasctically curtailed since the days of Tammany Hall with the rise of media and technology (television, tape-recording, phone-taps, blogs). On the other hand, perhaps that's naive and the corruption has just become more sophisticated (Gov. Blagojevich noteably excepted).

Does anyone have any other, possibly more informed, thoughts on the matter?

The sort of political boss

The sort of political boss structure has changed a little. They attempted to legitimize it via the construction of Wards. Personal experience in philadelaphia has shown that Ward Leaders are all about pay-to-play politics, but they bill it as expenses for GOTV and call centers, they trim a good portion from the top.

However Ward Leaders and such have a much more direct impact on local races than they do on the national scale. Especially for less prominant races. I believe the recent State Senate #1 primary is a primary example of this, and the endorsement of the Ward Leaders played a role in Doughertys defeat.

Obama was one of the few people in the city who refused to play that game, but IMHO things have a long way to go before the old city bosses and inbuilt corruption goes anywhere.

Agreed. The propensity for

Agreed. The propensity for corruption is inversely proportional to the scrutiny of the office, and local politics in big cities offer a dangerous mix of money and inattention.

Of course, that's why you want your cities to have robust and independent IG offices, and a strong and curious local press/blogsphere.