In any other state, Orville Hodge would be a legend. But this is Illinois, where a politician has to steal a lot more than $1.5 million to join the Pantheon of Corruption.
Hodge was the state auditor from 1953 to 1956. Halfway through his term, he began forging warrants for public expenditures. But the money didn’t go to the recipients Hodge had invented. It went to Hodge. For a while, Hodge’s scheme was so profitable that he was able to purchase a luxury home overlooking Lake Springfield, a Florida hotel, two planes, a Lincoln and a Cadillac.
Hodge’s friends assumed he’d become wealthy from his family real estate insurance and building business in Granite City. But the Chicago Daily News was suspicious enough to look into the source of Hodge’s new lifestyle. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the embezzlement scheme. Hodge served 6-1/2 years in Menard Correctional Institution.
Why is Orville Hodge important today? Because in 1970, when the Illinois held a convention to write a new constitution, it created two offices for handling money: a treasurer, for investments, and a comptroller, for disbursements. It was considered a safeguard against the sort of fraud Hodge had perpetrated.
The last member of that convention still in public life is House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. And Madigan is the only politician standing in the way of merging the offices of treasurer and comptroller. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka think they should be combined. The state Senate voted to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot to combine the offices in the 2014 election. But Madigan prevented it from passing the House.
According to a Sun-Times editorial:
A spokesman said Madigan, a Democrat, believes the division of the offices, in which the treasurer invests the money and the comptroller writes the checks, remains a necessary precaution. Cynics might suggest that Madigan’s record indicates the only consolidation of power he’s ever shown interest in is his own.
Topinka and Rutherford, both Republicans, say advances in electronic accounting technology and the appointment of a state auditor general who keeps independent track of state finances provide sufficient protection.
If Illinois abolished offices because the officeholders were corrupt, we would lack politicians. Madigan is using Hodge’s corruption as a lame excuse to perpetuate an office that no longer needs to exist.
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