The amount of political power that lawmakers wield has long been tied to their ability to make dollars rain down from political contributions. While no one would defend the crass trades sought by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in some ways his crimes consisted of simply making the implicit arrangements that bind politicians and donors altogether too explicit. The blatant horse-trading alleged in the criminal complaint is shocking—especially Blagojevich’s willingness to offer up state-awarded contracts—but is it really so different from the wink-nudge version that so often pervades politics?
For just one recent example, did the financial industry buy the votes for deregulation that led to the current economic meltdown, or did banking executives simply find a willing audience among politicians who were already inclined towards deregulation? There is a widely acknowledged symbiotic relationship between donors and politicians that tends over time merely to reinforce and reward the natural political inclinations of both, to the detriment of those outside the pay-to-play arrangements.