The feds set off a political atomic bomb the other day with the indictment of Illinois Governor George Ryan's campaign committee and his two former campaign managers, Scott Fawell and Rich Juliano. The big question on many minds is whether the entire state Republican Party will be damaged by the resulting radioactivity.

The Republicans are hoping that the indictment happened early enough in the political season to avoid any serious impact on the November elections; the nuclear explosion's "half-life" will be brief, they say.

But the political class has waited almost four years in vain for the public to grow weary of this scandal. Instead, Governor Ryan's miserable poll numbers have not budged, and would-be successor Jim Ryan is having real trouble with independent voters.

And even though the indictments were officially confined to those closest to the governor (a supposedly "clean" and contained detonation), the feds loaded their document with enough innuendo to contaminate large swaths of the Republican Party.

A question on almost everyone's mind in Springfield these days is: Why the heck would Scott Fawell, George Ryan's former chief of staff and 1998 campaign manager, keep detailed paper and computer records of illegal political work done on state time, plus bribes and other nefarious activities?

Why leave a paper trail that some nosy prosecutor can dig up that could send a bunch of people to jail? It just seems stupid to most people.

I have a theory.

It's pretty clear from reading the indictment, and the indictments preceding it, that Ryan's chief of staff at the secretary of state's office, Scott Fawell, was running a parallel, "shadow" government.

In the "legal" secretary-of-state world, employees were officially rewarded for hard work with promotions, raises, etc.

But in Fawell's shadow government we see the real reason why many workers moved up the ladder.

The personnel files in the shadow government were chock full of notations about how many days each employee "volunteered" on campaigns, how much money they gave to Ryan's campaign fund, how many fundraising tickets they sold, and how cooperative they were with the whole situation.

You could come to work every morning at 7 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m., and still never receive a raise unless you went along with Fawell's political program.

Everyone who knows Scott Fawell says he is a highly detail-oriented guy. But his zeal to track every ticket sale and every violation of campaign work on state time so that he could rate his workers came back to haunt him when the feds started digging around.

Prosecutors say Fawell ordered massive shredding and computer cleansing after the federal investigation began in 1998, but there was apparently just too much evidence in too many places.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).

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