Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Politics as usual -- Can you say "quid pro quo"?

It's been fifteen months since Barack Obama announced his bid for the presidency, and the media is just now starting to raise their eyebrows about his past political and business dealings. Tony Rezko came to light, and Obama has expressed disappointment in himself for doing the house deal with him. Then there was Jeremiah Wright, who recently opined about Obama that "he says what he has to say as a politician". (That was him throwing Obama under the bus, for those paying attention.) James Meeks got very little attention in the media, and Lord knows why because the guy is a rampant, outspoken homophobe. His connections to the "Chicago Way" of politics is well known.

Today, the LA Times has a story that exposes yet another facet of Obama's political dealings:

After an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2000, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama faced serious financial pressure: numerous debts, limited cash and a law practice he had neglected for a year. Help arrived in early 2001 from a significant new legal client -- a longtime political supporter.

Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr. paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer to give legal advice to his growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. It allowed Obama to supplement his $58,000 part-time state Senate salary for over a year with regular payments from Blackwell's firm that eventually totaled $112,000.

A few months after receiving his final payment from EKI, Obama sent a request on state Senate letterhead urging Illinois officials to provide a $50,000 tourism promotion grant to another Blackwell company, Killerspin.

Killerspin specializes in table tennis, running tournaments nationwide and selling its own line of equipment and apparel and DVD recordings of the competitions. With support from Obama, other state officials and an Obama aide who went to work part time for Killerspin, the company eventually obtained $320,000 in state grants between 2002 and 2004 to subsidize its tournaments.

Obama's staff said the senator advocated only for the first year's grant -- which ended up being $20,000, not $50,000. The day after Obama wrote his letter urging the awarding of the state funds, Obama's U.S. Senate campaign received a $1,000 donation from Blackwell.

Obama's presidential campaign rejects any suggestion that there was a connection between the legal work, the campaign contribution and the help with the grant. "Any implication that Sen. Obama would risk an ethical breach in order to secure a small grant for a pingpong tournament is nuts," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief political advisor.

Axelrod can say whatever he wants to about this, spin it anyway he'd like to, but to the average person looking at this story, it's apparent that Obama worked to secure a political donor taxpayer money for his business. And we do see this as an ethical breach -- he was on retainer for a company he basically lobbied for. Call it what you want, but it sure looks like he lobbied for the funds.

Now during this time, Obama was virtually broke. His credit cards were maxed out so badly that his card was rejected when he tried to rent a car for the DNC in 2004. Bills were piling up. But Blackwell claims that Obama's financial problems were none of his concern, and that they weren't the reason why he hired Obama. However, as we dig a little deeper in the story, more is revealed:

The monthly retainer paid by EKI was sent to the law firm that Obama was affiliated with at the time, currently known as Miner, Barnhill & Galland, where he worked part time when he wasn't tending to legislative duties. The business arrived at an especially fortuitous time because, as the law firm's senior partner, Judson Miner, put it, "it was a very dry period here," meaning that the ebb and flow of cases left little work for Obama and cash was tight.

The entire EKI retainer went to Obama, who was considered "of counsel" to the firm, according to details provided to The Times by the Obama campaign and confirmed by Miner. ...

Obama's tax returns show that he made no money from his law practice in 2000, the year of his unsuccessful run for a congressional seat. But that changed in 2001, when Obama reported $98,158 income for providing legal services. Of that, $80,000 was from Blackwell's company.

In 2002, the state senator reported $34,491 from legal services and speeches. Of that, $32,000 came from the EKI legal assignment, which ended in April 2002 by mutual agreement, as Obama ceased the practice of law and looked ahead to the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate. ...

Illinois ethics disclosure forms are designed to reveal possible financial conflicts by lawmakers. On disclosure forms for 2001 and 2002, Obama did not specify that EKI provided him with the bulk of the private-sector compensation he received. As was his custom, he attached a multi-page list of all the law firm's clients, which included EKI among hundreds. Illinois law does not require more specific disclosure.

Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who counsels members of Congress and others on ethics rules, said he would have advised a lawmaker in Obama's circumstances to separately disclose such a singularly important client and not simply include it on a list of hundreds of firm clients, even if the law does not explicitly require it. "I would say you should disclose that to protect and insulate yourself against the charge that you are concealing it," Brand said.

Obama has been quite reclusive when it comes to details on his past. This is just one more episode for voters to take note of. This buddy/buddy system he's got going for his friends and associates ought to make voters really start asking questions about him, and how he would run things if he's elected. It's clear to us that he doesn't stand for change. He stands for the same you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours style of politics. That's not change anyway you slice it. That's DC politics, and the sort that's done behind closed doors.

Publius II


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