Another day, another corruption probe.
In a reprise of Illinois-style politics, FBI agents Tuesday conducted a very public raid of the home and offices of a member of the Illinois Senate.
The move raised a host of questions, not just about why the feds are looking into the activities of Chicago-area state Sen. Martin Sandoval, but about where Sandoval’s suspected misconduct fits into the continuum of public corruption in Chicago and the state.
Is the raid related to the sprawling municipal corruption investigation stemming from the federal charges levied against powerful Chicago Alderman Ed Burke?
Is there any connection to the recent charges filed against another state senator, Thomas Cullerton of Villa Park, a relative of longtime Chicago politician Senate President John Cullerton?And what, if any, link is there between a pending investigation apparently aimed at Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, his associates and Sandoval?
After all, Madigan’s House district includes part of Sandoval’s Senate district, and they are on-again, off-again political partners in city and state matters.
One thing, however, is definitely clear about the simultaneous raids in which investigators carried off boxes of materials as well as a Sandoval computer. The feds are sending a message, in legal parlance, to others “known and unknown to the grand jury.”
The Chicago Tribune quoted an unidentified source as saying that “investigators are looking into allegations Sandoval used his official position to steer business to at least one company in exchange for kickbacks.”
Sandoval has an unsavory reputation. To put it kindly, he’s not overburdened by a sense of ethics in his approach to public policy. Perhaps that’s why Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, told reporters she was “not surprised” that Sandoval apparently has been targeted by the feds.
Nonetheless, he has influence in the Illinois Senate because he’s chairman of its Transportation Committee. In that role, he was a key player in the recent doubling of Illinois’ gas tax — from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents. The massive increase is funding $45 billion in public works projects, some legitimate infrastructure improvements and some pure legislative pork.
That’s a lot of money to be floating around, and the competition to get a piece of it must be fierce.
It is in that political maelstrom where proper and improper political influence comes into play.
Public curiosity, of course, is intense after exhibitions like the Sandoval raid. But aside from occasional disclosures and speculation in the news media, far more is not known than is known about all these investigations.
But it is obvious that the feds are on the offensive on multiple fronts involving multiple targets — big targets. That’s why those who are charged and those yet to be charged are sweating right now.
Do they save themselves, cooperate with investigators and rat out their friends and associates? Or do they tough it out and remain loyal to the code of self-interest that is emblematic of this state’s political history?
The Sandoval raids have given corrupt public officials and the public a lot more to think about.
Shady public officials are weighing their options and their chances. Meanwhile, voters should be asking themselves how long they’re going to accept public corruption as part and parcel of state and local government in this state.