SEIU in the crosshairs over Blago pay-for-play scandal

How serious has this scandal tarnished the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest public-sector unions in the nation?  Badly enough to gain the notice of the New York Times.  Steven Greenhouse does a good job providing the background to the union connections in this scandal, and shows why the SEIU made sense as a deal-cutting go-between for Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama:

The federal criminal complaint filed against Mr. Blagojevich said his chief of staff, John Harris, had suggested to a service employees’ official that the union should help make the governor the head of Change to Win, the federation of seven unions that broke away from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. The complaint said Mr. Blagojevich was seeking a position that paid $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

In exchange, the complaint strongly suggested, the service employees union and Change to Win would help persuade Mr. Blagojevich to name Valerie Jarrett, President-elect Barack Obama’s first choice, as the state’s new senator. And the union would get help from the Obama administration, presumably for its legislative agenda.

Jarrett was Obama’s choice for the Senate position, it should be noted.  Apparently Blagojevich didn’t get any promises of direct benefit from Team Obama at that time, as the complaint details Blagojevich’s profane frustration at only receiving “appreciation” from Obama.  The SEIU connection looks like a back-door way to push benefits to Blagojevich without fingerprints from the incoming Obama administration.

Perhaps, though, a few fingerprints might have been discovered.  Greenhouse notes that Patrick Gaspard had deep SEIU connections and now serves on Obama’s transition team.  Gaspard lobbied on health care issues, and Blagojevich thought he might get considered for a spot as HHS director in these wiretaps:

A senior service employees official who insisted on anonymity because prosecutors have asked union officials not to talk said his union was one of many that backed Mr. Blagojevich and has received favors from him. But he said that it was understandable that Mr. Blagojevich would ask the service employees for favor because it was so powerful and was seen as one of the unions closest to Mr. Obama.

Patrick Gaspard, the former political director of the service employees’ huge New York health-care affiliate, 1199, was political director of Mr. Obama’s campaign.

If Mr. Blagojevich was going to approach a union to help land a cushy job after leaving the Illinois governorship, it probably made sense for him to approach the service employees, the nation’s fastest growing union.

In fact, the SEIU was Blagojevich’s biggest donor in his two campaigns for the governorship.  The union also endorsed Obama early in the primaries, in February, when Hillary began to struggle.  With Gaspard on the team and the union holding some IOUs from Obama, a third-party deal would make perfect sense.

The question is whether that idea came solely from Blagojevich, or whether the SEIU originated or at least concurred in the process.  Obama would have gotten his preferred candidate in the Senate, the SEIU would have even more IOUs from both Blagojevich and Obama, and Blagojevich would have had his sinecure for a golden parachute out of Springfield.

Read the whole primer on the SEIU and its connections in this scandal; it’s a good piece of reporting.