Did Barack Obama make a payoff to a campaign contributor with a state grant? The Los Angeles Times reports on a one-hand-washing-the-other relationship with Robert Blackwell Jr, who employed Obama as an advisor while he served in the Illinois state senate. In return, Obama pushed the state tourism board to send a $50,000 grant to Blackwell’s company (via Rick Moran):
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.
This looks like a rather obvious quid pro quo. Coming from someone who casts himself as a representative of a new brand of politics, the Blackwell connection — especially the campaign donation — reveals something much less new and much more Chicago about Obama’s politics. In exchange for $118,000 in salary, Blackwell received $320,000 in state taxpayer money and influence at the highest level of state politics.
And it recalls another Chicago connection for Obama, his relationship with Tony Rezko and the purchase of his house. When Obama wanted to buy his current residence, he needed another buyer to come in with him to purchase an adjoining lot. Enter indicted fixer Rezko, who despite having all sorts of legal and financial problems at the time, comes up with $125,000 in a down payment and qualifies for a $500,000 mortgage in order for the Obamas to get their home. It turns out that Rezko got the money from shady Iraqi financier Nadmhi Auchi, after meeting Obama at a reception thrown by Rezko for Auchi to meet the power clique in Illinois.
The media has apparently just decided to start vetting Obama, fifteen months after his entry into the presidential campaign as a neophyte and a political cipher. Better late than never, but unfortunately for Obama, they have plenty of time to keep digging into his political connections.