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Pay to play is alive and well in Illinois

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 10:26 a.m. CST

(MCT) — The former head of Chicago’s mass transit authority believes House Speaker Michael Madigan’s actions show “a moral and ethical flaw.”

Alex Clifford, former Metra CEO, could be talking about the entire state.

Clifford, who received a healthy severance package in order to keep quiet about why he left, was finally allowed to talk publicly last week.

He told of an instance in which Speaker Madigan asked for a pay raise for an employee, who also happened to be a political donor. Clifford refused to authorize the pay raise and was called on the carpet by his bosses for putting the system’s state funding in danger. Madigan admits he recommended a pay raise, but said he was doing it on the advice of the employee’s supervisor and that nothing improper happened.

So here’s what Madigan thinks we should believe: That the Speaker of the House, who is a very busy man, took the time to contact the Metra CEO to ask that an employee be given a raise on the advice of a supervisor.

We are supposed to believe that the employee’s political contributions had nothing to do with Madigan’s request.

And we’re also supposed to believe that Clifford’s rejection of the raise — which is certainly within the CEO’s power — would not have led to consequences for Metra.

What’s more plausible is that Madigan expected the Metra CEO to do what he said, no questions asked. Madigan believes that it is within his power, and is proper, for him to do such favors for his political friends and supporters. The fact that Madigan doesn’t see anything wrong with such behavior is troubling.

We’re also disappointed in the reaction of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker’s daughter, when asked if her father influenced hiring decisions at her agency. She said twice that she doesn’t handle hiring decisions.

That may be true, but what we want and expect from the attorney general is that she ensures her office is immune to political pressure in hiring and other issues. That’s not the answer Lisa Madigan delivered.

Speaker Madigan’s attitude about the situation says a lot about government and politics in Illinois. The fact that delivering pay raises, or jobs, for political supporters and friends is considered normal behavior illustrates how far the state has strayed from its ethical and moral path.

But it isn’t that disturbing to a majority of Illinois, mostly because this type of behavior is so common that it is met with a shrug of acceptability.

That’s a sad, but true, commentary about our state.

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This editorial first appeared in The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

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©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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