Blago & Gino

The Madison County Record May 2, 2009, 6:00am

Young. Fresh-faced. Self-absorbed. And most of all, pro-lawsuit.

That's how East Alton law firm SimmonsCooper likes its political candidates.

The most notorious example is impeached ex-Gov. Rod "Blago" Blagojevich, who SimmonsCooper lawyers nourished with campaign funds early and often, fueling his improbable rise to become chief executive of our state.

The latest is state treasurer Alexi "Gino" Giannoulias, an empty vessel getting ready to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, otherwise known as the most powerful deliberative ruling body on earth.

According to a report this week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gino raked in a horde of cash from members of SimmonsCooper and their relatives, raising $65,000 in federally-limited $2,400 bundles. The firm is now officially behind him, just like it got behind Blago.

To be sure, both men are avowed liberals from the north side of Chicago. Maybe firm founder John Simmons has a soft spot for squishy Cubs fans. But that's just where the similarities between Blago and Gino begin.

Like Blago, Gino got a first chance in politics not because of something he himself did, but because of who he knew. More precisely, it was who his family knew and supported with their millions.

Blago's father-in-law was a powerful Chicago alderman who greased his path. Gino's daddy let him work at the family bank before buying him a political career. And it was an impressive show of influence. Most politicians work their whole careers for a chance to run statewide. Gino's pop got him a clear shot on his maiden voyage.

Because of their financial support, President Barack Obama has to give the Giannoulias family the time of day. And Gino feels he has license to describe himself as an Obama "protege," even if he paid for it.

But unlike Gino, President Obama rose through the ranks on his own efforts, not a family bankroll.

We believe there's real value in candidates earning their way into office, rather than having it bequeathed to them on account of family name, wealth, or clout. The latter route gives us vapid elected officials like Blago and Gino, who talk of serving the people only to stroke their own egos.

There's proven danger in electing lightweights to jobs with heavyweight responsibility. Those who just want to be loved are too easy to influence, too hesitant to lead.

A case in point: Blago's reign, which was a debacle for the people of Illinois, but proved a jackpot for Illinois' lawsuit industry and Mr. Simmons. His early donations earned Simmons prestige with a spot on the SIU Board of Trustees, plus $25 million in state tax dollars steered to his personal endeavors. That's about $4 million to build a baseball stadium in Marion for his minor league team and $21.5 million for the "SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute" at SIU's School of Medicine.

Quite a nifty return on investment from Gov. Blago. Now SimmonsCooper seems to see similar promise in electing Gino. Consider yourself forewarned.

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