ELECTION ’08 | Obama tells Sun-Times it’s hard to keep track of about $250,000 from tainted donor
For the first time, Sen. Barack Obama put a figure Friday to the amount of campaign contributions that indicted political fund-raiser Tony Rezko raised for the senator’s campaigns, and the number — about $250,000 — was far more than he previously acknowledged.
“We believe we have identified all money that is traceable. … It’s hard for me to know precisely. I don’t have the capacity to go back and figure out who did he raise money from. There might be additional dollars,” Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times in an 80-minute interview that focused on his 17-year relationship with Rezko, who has become a lingering issue as Obama seeks the Democratic nomination for president.
This is the breakdown Obama provided for Rezko’s fund-raising:
• About $160,000 for Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate election. Obama has given that money to charity.
• From $50,000 to $60,000 for Obama’s failed attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush in 2000.
• Between $10,000 and $15,000 for Obama’s first election, in 1996, to the Illinois Senate.
• “Somewhat less than that” for Obama’s re-elections to the Illinois Senate in 1998 and 2002.
Obama’s estimate exceeded his campaign staff’s previous estimates of Rezko’s fund-raising during Obama’s 12 years in politics. In November 2006, Obama’s staff estimated Rezko raised $50,000 to $60,000 over the senator’s career. In the last year, Obama’s campaign fund has given charities more than $157,600 in donations it linked to Rezko, his family, friends and business associates.
Rezko is on trial on corruption charges that accuse him of using his influence with Gov. Blagojevich to coerce kickbacks from firms seeking state pension business. Obama hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, but his name has surfaced in the trial. Prosecutors say Rezko ordered a business associate to use part of a kickback as a contribution to Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign.
On Friday, Obama engaged in a wide-ranging interview that included his 1990 introduction to the housing projects Rezko’s company developed with legal assistance from the law firm where Obama worked, and the 2005 real estate deal in which Obama bought a Kenwood mansion for $1.65 million on the same day Rezko’s wife bought the adjacent vacant lot. Rezko’s wife later sold the Obamas part of the lot.
Obama said he and Rezko used to meet for breakfast or lunch a few times each year, but they might talk daily when Rezko was helping raise money for Obama’s campaigns.
“Michelle and I probably had two or three dinners with him and his wife during the course of six or seven or eight years,” Obama said. “Visited their home in Lake Geneva once for the day. And I have to say that, during that entire time, he never asked me for anything.”
Is Rezko still a friend?
“Yes,” Obama said, “with the caveat if it turns out the allegations are true, then he’s not who I thought he was, and I’d be very disappointed with that.”
And it’s that friendship, Obama said, that probably kept him from realizing it was a mistake to enter into a real estate deal with Rezko.
“Probably because I’d known him for a long time, and he’d acted in an aboveboard manner with me,” he said. “And I considered him a friend. … It’s further evidence that I’m not perfect.”