I had to go back one month to check the latest request we had gotten to place a paid link on one of our sites for someone. We get them periodically. never acted on one. I never say I'll do it or won't do it..but always ask about the url. Then I never follow through. Sometimes the requests have ZERO relevance, IMHO, to the site we have. This one had some relevance.
checked on the anchor text phrase. The entity on whose behalf it was made was ranked in the top 3. Its a big money phrase. Its a big money industry. I never bother checking any further. Could be that high ranking in a competitive world is a result of 95% white hat or could be a result of 95% black hat. Just don't have the interest in finding out.
For all of google's efforts to ferret out paid links or so they say....it goes on and on and on.
With regard to Rae's comment:
Rae Hoffman, President of PushFire told the crowd, the old days of paying for links are gone. Link building is hard… get over it.
....frankly I bet hunting for paid links like the example I experienced is also hard. Its like dialing for dollars.
If people can game a system they will. If google were to dramatically change its algo's in a way that PR was largely devalued....people would game the new method.