David Freddoso: There's always room for scandal

It was a tough year for the politicians — in one party, at least. In Illinois, a former governor's corruption trial dominated the news. In Ohio, a scandal involving gifts from lobbyists and shady contractors was shaking the state's ruling party to its foundations.

On the national level, several House members were embroiled in a scandal involving close ties to a lobbyist — a former congressional staffer who had been extremely skillful in extracting donations from his clients and obtaining earmarks for them.

There were several minor scandals too — one involved a married congressman allegedly choking his mistress — and all of them seemed to be concentrated in one party.

The year, of course was 2006. Former Republican Gov. George Ryan was convicted in Illinois, and the state went on to re-elect its “reform” Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich. In Ohio, Republican Gov. Bob Taft plumbed new depths of unpopularity (7 percent approval, and that's rounding up) after he admitted to taking gifts.

The man who had treated him and other officials to so many free rounds of golf was imprisoned for stealing millions from the state pension funds with which he had been entrusted. Democrats swept statewide offices that year.

In 2006, scandals were crucial to Democrats' historic victory in the House of Representatives. Of course there was Jack Abramoff, but the game-changer came very late. Mark Foley, a congressman with an unhealthy interest in young congressional pages, represented the last straw.

Voters decided that November they'd had enough of page-coddling, bribe-taking, influence-peddling, wife-beating and mistress-choking Republicans. The rest was history.

In 2010, roles have reversed. Democrats suffer from several local self-inflicted wounds. Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who succeeded Blagojevich after his impeachment, now looks like the political equivalent of a fish in a barrel.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week on newly unearthed allegations that Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., did try to buy President Obama's old Senate seat in exchange for a $6 million fundraiser. In this environment, that seat may well go Republican in 40 days, perhaps along with two or three Democratic House seats in the Prairie State.

In Ohio, a bellwether state, federal prosecutors spent last week breaking the back of Cleveland's Democratic machine after a massive bribery investigation. The FBI led away its bearded boss, Jimmy DiMora, in manacles.

He and seven others — two of them Democratic judges — have been indicted. A weakened Ohio Democratic Party now faces the possible loss of five House seats and the governorship. Their rare opportunity to pick up an open Senate seat already appears gone.

As Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin runs for Senate, the feds are investigating his administration. Eight Democratic city officials in Bell, Calif., were arrested this week for allegedly stealing $5.5 million in public funds.

Jackson and seven other Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus have come under separate ethics clouds, and at least one of them, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, could lose his seat after doling out several CBC foundation scholarships to friends and family.

Paul Magliochetti, a former aide to Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., and the head of the now-defunct PMA lobbying group, pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. He had funneled a stunning $40 million from his employees and clients into politicians' coffers between 1998 and 2008.

The recipients came from both parties, but some important Democrats top the list. And PMA clients received quite a return on their investments: Just one of the 2008 appropriations bills (defense) contained $300 million in earmarks for PMA clients.

Still, there has been no game-changing scandal in 2010. Not yet, anyway.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at dfreddoso@washingtonexaminer.com.

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