The FBI conducted a raid on the offices of Larry Walsh, Will County executive and former Illinois state senator, as part of a probe into corruption tied to earmarks and lobbyists.  The raid comes after the FBI met with the county auditor to investigate his complaints about one of his aides taking money from lobbyists for favorable treatment.  Walsh endorsed Barack Obama this year, and Obama supported Walsh in his current position:

The FBI on Wednesday raided the county offices of a former Illinois state senator who is a poker-playing buddy of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

According to Chicago authorities, the FBI visited the offices in Joliet, Ill., of Will County executive Larry Walsh, a longtime friend of Mr. Obama’s, and his chief of staff Matt Ryan.

Mr. Walsh, who served in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2005, was endorsed by Mr. Obama in his county executive election bid. With the support of some of Mr. Obama’s U.S. Senate volunteers, he easily defeated incumbent Republican Joseph Mikan.

Will County auditor Steve Weber confirmed that his office had been asked by the FBI to assist in an investigation, but he did not elaborate on the specifics.

No one will be terribly surprised to find corruption in Illinois politics, and this looks like garden-variety backscratching, at least for the moment.  Weber suspects that Walsh and/or Ryan have been getting kickbacks from the lobbying firms hired by Will County to pursue federal earmarks.  If true, it demonstrates the corrupting influence of Congressional pork all the way through every level of government.  When millions of dollars can be had, people will throw thousands at the people who can get it for them.  It’s an entire industry in and of itself, and that’s not good for truly representative government.  It’s also terribly inefficient; instead of wasting all that money in getting taxes to Washington and then sending it back to local communities, it would be much cheaper for everyone if the money just stayed local in the first place.

So far, this particular bit of corruption doesn’t appear to have any direct connection to Barack Obama, but that’s not really the point.  Obama endorsed Walsh and played poker with him on a regular basis.   In the 2004 election, faced off against Alan Keyes in a walkover, Obama sent his campaign volunteers to work for Walsh’s election.  It makes a farce out of Obama’s claims to be a reformer.  He didn’t do anything in Illinois to reform politics, a place that needs much more reform than Washington.  Instead, he played poker with people who later appear to have committed the kind of cronyism and backscratching he now criticizes — and worse yet, helped them win elections.

I doubt this has anything to do with Tony Rezko and his apparent decision to start cooperating with authorities, as this raid appears to have come from the county auditor’s work.  However, it fits well with the overall impression of politics in Illinois and the lack of any reform effort by those who succeeded in winning elections there.

Update: Barack Obama may have provided the grist for this scandal.  Jennifer Rubin notices several Obama earmark requests for Will County in his disclosure:

  • In 2006, Obama requested that Will County receive $1.3 million to support its Flood Studies for Unincorporated Will County.
  • In 2006, Obama requested $800,000 for the Will County Sheriff’s Office Wireless Communications Technology Upgrades.
  • In 2006, Obama requested $1,953,331 for Will County’s Ridgewood Water and Sewage Project.
  • In 2005, Obama requested $2 million for the Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, to establish a Center for Academic and Community Learning, which is designed to address the significant educational needs of the less advantaged in the Will County region by providing academic assistance not only for students on campus but also for residents of the surrounding communities.
  • Another reference appears to relate to the Will County Health Department’s mental health program which I am informed got another $1.95 million.

This would tend to tie Obama to Walsh a little more closely in an earmark-kickback scheme, if indeed this turns out to be true.