For perhaps the majority of Americans, an understanding of the link between corruption and electoral rules that endow political bosses with the capacity to give away legislative seats to politicians at lower rungs of their party is limited to recent events in the state of Illinois. In a now infamous wiretapped conversation with a political advisor held on November 5, 2008, the then-governor of the state, Rod Blagojevich, uttered the phrase that will ring in the ears of students of the American political scene for generations to come: “I've got this thing and its f***ing …golden.…. And I, I'm just not giving it up for f***ing nothing.” The golden “thing” to which Blagojevich was referring was the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois being vacated by then-President-elect Barack Obama. According to the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, state legislatures in the United States may empower governors to unilaterally appoint a replacement in the case of a Senate seat being vacated. State law in Illinois and thirty-two other states in the country provide their governors with such power. Blagojevich's colorful language referred to his disposition to barter off the Senate seat legally under his control.
The enormous public uproar caused by the release of the recording of the conversation was due in large part to the rarity of such exchanges in contemporary American politics.