And in Trenton last week, Gov. James McGreevey's impending resignation, which follows his revelation that he is gay and had a very compromising extramarital affair, has given him the freedom to do something he couldn't bring himself to do before: He has signed an executive order that will break the link between campaign contributions and the awarding of government contracts in his state.
"Pay to play" is what the practice is called in New Jersey. In Kentucky, it's simply business as usual.
Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus has spent much of his career documenting the correlation between the contributions made by road builders, architects, engineers, law firms and building owners and the awarding of state government contracts and leases.
That connection has cost Kentucky taxpayers a bundle: In 1999, for example, this newspaper determined that the state had "wasted millions of dollars in the last two decades by leasing office space instead of building it."
In Trenton last week, Gov. McGreevey took a step Kentucky needs to take, too: He prohibited businesses that donate to state or local political committees or to gubernatorial candidates from getting government contracts.
Gov. McGreevey cited the "corrosive and cancerous" effect of that kind of fund raising. Recent governors of Illinois and Connecticut could also bear witness, since their political careers ended prematurely after they were caught exploiting the connection for personal gain as well.
State Sen. David Williams, R-Burkesville, is aware of the problem. On his very first day as Senate president, in January 2000, he filed Senate Bill 2, which would have prohibited people who contribute to candidates for governor or to political parties from holding state contracts and leases.
The Republican Senate passed the bill easily. But it died in the Democratic House.
Democrats, at the time, had more to lose. Paul Patton, a Democrat, was governor. They couldn't afford to give up that fund-raising advantage.
"It would be damaging to elections and campaign processes we go through in Kentucky," the bill-killer said.
Yes, it certainly would have been. And that was precisely the point.
Unfortunately, with a Republican governor in office now and Republicans seeing the possibility of strengthening their power in the legislature, the interest of Sen. Williams and his party in this kind of legislation waned. In fact, it disappeared.
Clearly, neither political party can claim the high ground on this issue. The high ground seems to fall to the party - or, in Gov. McGreevey's case, the individual - that has nothing left to lose.
But the mutual exploitation of contractors and politicians is a disgrace. Sen. Williams expressed that on his first day in leadership, and Gov. McGreevey confirmed it on one of his last.
- The Courier-Journal, Louisville