by John R. Lott, Jr.

One would think that Rod Blagojevich's removalfrom office would make politicians extremely careful about appearances regarding pay-offs for U.S. Senate seats. Yet, President Obama may have now gotten himself into a similar situation.

Over the last week, Obama has been in discussions with New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg about becoming the next Secretary of Commerce. There has already been an understandingthat Obama was trying to tempt Senator Gregg with the offer to be head of Commerce so that the Democrats have a filibuster proof senate control. News articles have paintedthe offer as an attempt by Obama at bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

Yet, the Politico's Ben Smith notedSaturday: "The White House, I'm told, is still trying to get a guarantee from Governor Lynch that he'll replace Senator Gregg with a Democrat." Smith's statement was a single sentence and no other implications have been drawn from it.

If indeed what Politico wrote is confirmed, it indicates that Obama clearly does not believe that Senator Gregg is the best person to head the Commerce Department -- it makes explicit that Obama is offering the Commerce job solely to buy a senate seat for the Democrats. Arguably this might be even worse than what Blagojevich did, since Blagojevich's actions just involved private funds. By contrast, Obama would be misappropriating a government position, putting in someone who he doesn't believe is the best person for the job, to buy a senate seat.

Particularly with the recession the Department of Commerce position is even more important than usual. For Obama to use it to buy a senate seat at this time seems particularly troubling and cynical. Senator Gregg's motivationsmay be quite different from Obama's -- after all heading the Commerce Department is a powerful position. But the White House's statement as related by Politico raises serious questions about whether Obama is really different otherChicago politicians.

Ironically, not only was Blagojevich just removed from office for trying to sell a senate seat, but the Commerce position is only open because Governor Bill Richardson was forcedto withdraw his name over investigations into bribery.

John Lottis the author of Freedomnomicsand a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.