Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged that he had substantially underrepresented the cash raised for his earlier campaigns by indicted businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko.
But Obama's campaign said it could not donate to charity as much as $90,000 in newly acknowledged Rezko-linked contributions because the old campaign accounts were closed and the money spent.
Obama's acknowledgment that Rezko raised as much as $250,000 for earlier campaigns, initially made in an interview with The Chicago Tribune and confirmed later to Politico, came after a year-and-a-half-long trickle of admissions about Rezko’s fundraising role and more than a month after Obama’s aides contended that they had identified and jettisoned all Rezko-linked cash. It also came as Rezko’s trial on corruption charges, underway in Chicago, brought increased scrutiny of Obama’s ties to the real estate developer, fast-food magnate and political insider.
Days ago, Politico asked the campaign for a detailed list of the $157,835 in Rezko-linked contributions it said it had donated to charity.
The campaign attributed only $85,185 of that to a list of specific donations from Rezko and 16 associates, declining to attribute the rest because it told Politico it didn’t want to subject other contributors “to any suspicion of wrongdoing or embarrassment.”
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Friday evening that the campaign intended to release new details on as much as $75,000 in Rezko-linked donations to Obama's 2000 and 2004 congressional campaigns, but not any information about money Rezko raised for Obama’s state Senate campaigns.
“We’ve given all of the money contributed to Barack Obama’s federal campaigns that could reasonably be credited to Mr. Rezko’s political support to charity,” LaBolt said in an e-mailed statement. “Sen. Obama also provided an estimate of the most that could have possibly been raised as a result of Mr. Rezko’s efforts, but that estimate is not a basis upon which any individual contributions can be donated to charity.”
LaBolt also said the campaign would release new information about a much-scrutinized land deal between Obama and Rezko’s wife, which Obama has called a “boneheaded” mistake.
A Politico analysis of campaign finance and court records found Rezko’s fundraising for Obama extended well beyond the confines of the initial list and overlapped with contributions prosecutors plan to highlight in Rezko’s trial in federal court in Chicago.
The review turned up donations previously unnoted by media and Obama’s campaign. And it found a pattern in which, on at least seven occasions, groups of five or more Rezko associates and workers would on the same day write big, often matching checks to Obama’s campaigns, starting with his failed 2000 congressional race.
Obama, the junior senator from Illinois who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing and is only a bit player in the Rezko corruption trial. But it’s likely to yield new information about Rezko’s fundraising for Obama, and Obama’s Friday evening disclosure seems designed to minimize the trial’s impact on his fierce battle for the nomination with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).
The two are girding for a six-week slugfest headed into the crucial April 22 Pennsylvania primary — and are working to present themselves as more electable to the superdelegates who may end up deciding the Democratic nomination.
The trial, headed into its third week, will last two to three months, and prosecutors have signaled they’ll query at least two former Rezko associates about whether he directed them to steer separate $10,000 checks to Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign, in possible violation of campaign rules.
Obama has said he didn&rsqu;t know the source of those funds. Both $10,000 contributions, from Joseph Aramanda and Elie Maloof, were included among the contributions the senator donated to charity.
Also on that list was a $1,000 contribution on March 17, 2000, from Aramanda for Obama’s unlikely 2000 primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.).
Obama did not, however, include on that list five other $1,000 contributions from Rezko employees received that same day, including one from Maloof.
Federal Election Commission records list Aramanda as chief operating officer and Maloof as vice president of operations of a chain of pizza franchises owned by Rezko.
The four other people who cut $1,000 checks to Obama that day and listed themselves as employees of Rezko businesses were Dolores P. Wade, a manager of Rezko Enterprises who has died, and three people who reported they were employed by a development company called Rezmar Inc.: Michael J. Sreenan, a lawyer; Jennifer Shaxted Arons, director of marketing; and Daniel Mahru, the company’s president and co-founder.
Such patterns are not unusual in campaign finance records — they often suggest that an influential person has been collecting contributions from a network of friends and associates or has organized a fundraiser. But the March 17, 2000, Rezko-linked contributions stand out for other reasons.
The contributions were the first on record to a federal or Illinois state race for Maloof, Aramanda, Wade and Sreenan — and they marked the beginning of a pattern.
Obama’s campaign told Politico that Rezko held only one fundraiser for him — a June 27, 2003, cocktail party for Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign at his suburban Chicago mansion — but “participated as a member of a host committee for several other events.” It would not reveal when or where those events were held, because it said it did not have records for the events.
Maloof, Mahru and another donor whose contributions to Obama were donated to charity, Joseph Cari, are expected to testify in Rezko’s trial. Another donor whose contribution was returned, Imad Almanaseer, testified this week, and at least two more Obama donors are on a list submitted to jurors of names that could arise during trial.
After Rush won the 2000 primary, Obama returned to the state Senate. But Rezko’s associates and subordinates boosted him again a few years later when he set his sights on the U.S. Senate, mounting his successful 2004 bid.
On the final day of 2002, Politico found Obama’s fledgling Senate campaign got a huge boost when Rezko, his wife and 11 of his current and former associates — including Sreenan, Wade, former employee Judi Fishman and former business partner David Brint (who, while Obama was still in law school, offered him a job with the development firm run by Brint and Rezko) — chipped in a total of $19,500.
In an e-mail declining an interview request from Politico, Brint wrote, “If it’s about Rezko and Barack, there is no story.”
The campaign six months later at the Rezko cocktail party picked up at least $50,000 more in contributions linked by Politico’s analysis to Rezko, including checks from Sreenan, Wade and Aramanda.
Though the two hauls boosted his campaign at a critical stage early in the race, Obama has since indicated that he has included at least $30,000 from the two days' bounty in his $85,185 in charitable contributions. Also, of the contributions Obama’s campaign declined to name, it told The Chicago Sun-Times some “may be connected to” the June 2003 fundraiser.
This election cycle has brought heightened scrutiny of the practices of super-donors such as Rezko who bundle donations from a network of supporters. Clinton last year returned more than $800,000 connected to another disgraced fundraiser, Norman Hsu, and the returns prompted a spate f stories questioning whether some of the donors who received the refunds gave their own cash of their own accord.
Unless it does so voluntarily, Obama’s campaign won’t have to report precisely which donors’ contributions are being turned away, since his campaign is donating the contributions to charity. That means it will have to report only lump sum payments to the 17 beneficiary charities.
Obama has said he didn’t do any special favors for — or accept them from — Rezko or his associates.
During the summer of 2005, though, Obama did give a prestigious internship in his Washington office to Aramanda’s son, who Rezko had recommended.
And Obama benefited from 2005 and 2006 land deals with Rezko’s wife that expanded the newly purchased $1.65 million Obama homestead in a way the senator’s family otherwise would have had trouble affording.
On the same June 2005 day that the Obamas purchased their new home for $1.65 million, Rita Rezko bought an adjacent lot for $625,000. Six months later, Rezko sold a 10-foot-wide strip of the lot to the Obamas for $104,500, expanding their yard.
Six months later, Rezko sold the rest of the lot for $575,000 to a company formed by Sreenan to develop the parcel.