The reforms nearly a century ago were sparked by another Illinois scandal and led to a change in the U.S. Constitution.
The “blond boss” of Chicago, William Lorimer, was ousted from the Senate in 1912 after it was found that bribes had been paid to Illinois state legislators to get him the seat.
In the late 19th century, it was commonly said that wealthy men could buy a seat in the Senate by spreading money among the state legislators, who, under the nation’s Constitution, had the task of choosing U.S. senators. The idea had been that elected lawmakers, rather than ordinary people, could be trusted to make a wise selection.
The Chicago case played a prominent role in the nation’s decision to amend the Constitution and allow the state’s voters to elect their senators. It was a solution that seems to have worked for 95 years.
Lorimer, an immigrant from England and a dapper and popular politician, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1895 when he was 33. In 1909, after a long deadlock in the Illinois Legislature, Lorimer was chosen to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.
But a year later, the Chicago Tribune reported on allegations that bribes had been paid to secure Lorimer’s seat, including an admission by a state assemblyman that he had received $1,000.
In the old days, buying a Senate seat was not unusual | RETROGRESSING