Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Would Blagojevich be less broke if he behaved a little more civilly as governor?

A lot of people like to lump Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan into one mass – corrupt politicos who managed to get their hands on the post of Illinois governor and use it for wrongdoing.

Yet I can’t think of anyone who knows seriously what they are talking about who thinks the two men are identical. In fact, the big difference between the two was reinforced in my mind when reading reports Tuesday about testimony in Blagojevich’s trial about how he privately worried who would wind up paying for his legal bills.

WHEN ONE GETS the federal government as ticked off at you as Blagojevich has, it is inevitable that the prosecution is going to spend big bucks to build their case. Which means that even if you wanted to be cheap, it would cost a significant amount of cash to pay for the lawyers and their activities that prevent the prosecution from bulldozing your rights right into a prison cell.

Ryan endured the same government desire to put him away when he was on trial in the same Dirksen Building federal courthouse a few years ago.

Yet Ryan as a political person was the type who understood the political culture of favors to the degree that many officials were sympathetic to him. Some even felt like they still owed him something, even after his indictment.

Blagojevich claimed he was out to take a sledgehammer to the idea of such a political culture. But what he did was ticked off so many people who should have been his political allies that they were eager to dump him, and aren’t going to shed a tear if he gets a criminal conviction.

RYAN’S ATTITUDE IS why the Winston & Strawn law firm, in the form of partner James R. Thompson, was willing to provide significant legal services on a pro bono basis to him. Of course, Ryan was lieutenant governor when Thompson was governor.

For Thompson, I’m sure he saw his law firm’s work on behalf of Ryan (which he once estimated had a value of $20 million) as fighting on behalf of a friend. I’m sure that privately, Thompson sees the fact that he was unable to get either an acquittal in the federal court or an overturning of the conviction on appeal as a personal failure on his part.

I can’t envision anyone is going to take it as a personal failure if they lose on behalf of Blagojevich. They’re certainly not going to give him the same financial break that Ryan received (although one can argue the “break” wasn’t worth much if he was found guilty anyway).

The Chicago Tribune reported about Tuesday’s testimony against Blagojevich that his concern about legal bills came from the same Winston & Strawn law firm that handled Ryan’s court case.

HIS ONE-TIME CHIEF of staff, John Harris, testified about how angry Blagojevich was at the law firm for being so hard-nosed, particularly with their payment schedule. Had he been able to delay the payments a couple of months, he would not have had to report the expenditures on his campaign finance disclosures for quite a bit of time.

In 2007, he had already paid the law firm about $1 million for work they did on his behalf, and then he received another bill for $700,000, which the law firm was demanding payment for up front. Does this mean the same people who took it as a cause to fight for George Ryan were only in it for Blagojevich’s money?

Or did Ryan break the law firm financially so they have to be more hard-nosed about billing their clients?

Not that these particular fees were enough to bankrupt Blagojevich (although I expect he will be by trial’s end). He had a campaign fund. Money that Blagojevich would have liked to have used to get himself elected to a third term as governor in this year’s election cycle would up going to pay for attorneys.

YET THE REALITY of putting up a defense in the federal court system means that his campaign cash won’t be enough. The reality is that the special funds to ensure proper legal representation of the indigent will wind up covering a part of the cost of Milorod’s legal defense.

For those who think it unfair that Blagojevich can tap into such funds, I would only point out that if the one-time governor is going to be hit with so much activity that it drives him broke financially (some would argue he was emotionally bankrupt long before being indicted), then the taxpayers will have to assume some of the cost.

I am just wondering if Blagojevich these days wishes he had been a bit more friendly with his government colleagues. Perhaps then, they’d be a little less eager to see him get convicted – and go broke in the process.


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