Clout Lists Burn Politicians. Again.

Suggesting a remedy

By Steve Rhodes
|  Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009  |  Updated 8:01 AM CDT
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Rod Blagojevich kept a favors list before he was even elected.

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Behold the clout list.

Log of favors. Index of power. Friend to pol and prosecutor alike.

And apparently indestructible. Because they keep keeping them.

The latest clout list to enter public view is that of the Rod Blagojevich administration.

As the Sun-Times just recounted, the administration was tracking favors even before it officially took office. And even as Blagojevich was announcing a state hiring freeze, his administration was finding work for political allies - and not just in the legally allotted patronage posts.

Of course, Blagojevich's predecessor kept a favors list too.

A year after Blagojevich took office, federal prosecutors introduced the list as evidence in the trial of George Ryan's right-hand man, Scott Fawell.

And a list was kept in Richard M. Daley's City Hall, too. Federal prosecutors introduced that list as evidence in the trial of top Daley aide Robert Sorich.

And in just the last year we've come to find that the University of Illinois admissions office kept a list too; a list making sure the friends and relatives of the sort of people on the Blago, Ryan and Daley lists got into the school even when they weren't up to snuff.

These clout lists represent the shadow governments that really run Chicago and Illinois, apart from the government that is presented for public viewing. These are the insiders we hear so much about, and these lists detail the favor economy that fuels their livelihood - often at the expense of taxpayers. In fact, ripping off taxpayers is sort of the point. We pay for the trough they feed at.

"Everyone says they don't keep a list, yet it's apparent everyone does," Fawell told Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown last week. "And it's a necessary organizational tool for keeping track of who you helped. You really need to have something. If you're going to do favors, you want to remember them."

There's another alternative, though, and I know it sounds crazy. But it just might work: Don't do political favors. Play by the rules. Make everyone apply for jobs. Choose the best applicants.

Nuts, I know. But it would also save all that time and energy keeping a clout list.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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