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OPINION

More Chicago-Style Corrupt Crony Capitalism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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I’ve already commented on some of the sleazy behavior that infects Chicago politics.

Now we have a jaw-dropping example of what’s wrong with the state of Illinois, as explained by Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal.

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Soon the Illinois state legislature will meet in special session to consider the Chicago machine’s latest favor: legislation designed to deliver tax relief to three of the state’s largest companies. These tax breaks for the lucky few come just 10 months after the Illinois legislature approved what has been described as the largest tax increase in the state’s history. …In so doing, Chicago is giving America a window into the logic of crony capitalism: Raise taxes on everyone—and then cut side deals with those big enough to lobby for special relief. The legislature is considering this limited tax relief because three corporate mainstays of greater Chicago have threatened to leave without it. One is the CME Group, operator of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s largest futures exchange by volume. Another is the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), the world’s largest options exchange. The last is Sears, one of America’s oldest and most famous retailing giants.

My initial instinct is to have some sympathy for the companies. After all, America’s corporate tax system is brutally anti-competitive. Heck, government gets a greater share of corporate profit than shareholders!

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But the column goes on to explain that at least one of the firms gave lots of money to the very same political predators that created the unfriendly tax system.

CME and the other beneficiaries of this special tax bill would have a far better case, however, if instead of pushing for special treatment for themselves, they used their clout to argue for a more market-friendly environment overall. After all, if the state’s tax treatment is making it hard for Sears and CME, the family restaurant or mom-and-pop shop down the corner is probably feeling the pinch too. Alas, equal treatment is not the Chicago way. Maybe that’s why we heard little from corporate Chicago when Mr. Quinn was campaigning for his tax hikes. To the contrary, back in June the Chicago News Cooperative reported that CME donated $50,000 to Mr. Quinn in the general election and $40,000 in the primary, $200,000 to Rahm Emanuel (a former CME board member) during his run for mayor of Chicago, and $150,000 to the man who really runs Illinois, House Speaker Mike Madigan.

I’ve made fun of the OccupyWallStreet protesters on many occasions (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), but this column shows that big business oftentimes does engage in corrupt deals with the political class. This is something that should deeply offend all decent people.

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I also think it should offend the judiciary. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I’m guessing that state constitutions (like the U.S. Constitution) have clauses providing for equal protection under the law. So why, then, do they allow these corrupt forms of favoritism?

But I’m probably being naive in thinking that Illinois courts would actually care about justice. As such, don’t be surprised to see more stories like this in coming years.

Daniel J. Mitchell, Cato Institute

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