Tribune: Fundraiser for Blago tied to Jackson effort

The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that a group of Chicago businessmen met to plan a fundraiser on the final weekend of the campaign.  Did they raise money for favorite son Barack Obama, or perhaps for John McCain?  In fact, they raised money for a candidate who wasn’t even running for office three days before his arrest — and the true intent was to benefit another:

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich was trying to pick Illinois’ next U.S. senator, businessmen with ties to both the governor and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. discussed raising at least $1 million for Blagojevich’s campaign as a way to encourage him to pick Jackson for the job, the Tribune has learned.

Blagojevich made an appearance at an Oct. 31 luncheon meeting at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg sponsored by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak, a major Blagojevich supporter who also has fundraising and business ties to the Jackson family, according to several attendees and public records.

Two businessmen who attended the meeting and spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson’s bid for the Senate.

Among the attendees was a Blagojevich fundraiser already under scrutiny by federal investigators, Joliet pharmacist Harish Bhatt.

That meeting led to a Blagojevich fundraiser Saturday in Elmhurst, co-sponsored by Nayak and attended by Jesse Jackson Jr.’s brother, Jonathan, as well as Blagojevich, according to several people who were there. Nayak and Jonathan Jackson go back years and the two even went into business together years ago as part of a land purchase on the South Side.

Blagojevich and the congressman met to discuss the Senate seat on Monday, one day before federal prosecutors arrested Blagojevich and charged him with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. As part of the charges, prosecutors alleged that Blagojevich was considering awarding the seat to a politician identified as “Senate Candidate 5” because emissaries for that candidate were promising to raise as much as $1.5 million for Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

Jesse Jackson, Jr insisted yesterday that he had no dirty hands in this scandal.  His father, former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson, told reporters that he didn’t act as a go-between for his son to Blagojevich.  He may have told the truth, according to this report.  It looks like the go-between was Jonathan Jackson, and the Saturday fundraiser was the down payment.

This may explain why Patrick Fitzgerald moved now.  First, money did change hands — perhaps not explicitly, but the structure of the payoff for “Senate Candidate 5” was supposed to be campaign contributions.  After this down payment, Jackson could reasonably expect his appointment to follow shortly after the fundraiser.  Fitzgerald had to be worried that Blagojevich could act any time.

It’s not just businessmen involved in this fundraising effort, either.  One prominent Illinois official took part in this plan.  Rajinder Bedi runs the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Office of Trade and Investment and serves as a close aide to Blagojevich, according to the Tribune.  Another businessman, Harish Bhatt, supposedly wields great influence in state politics.  A prominent pharmacist, he allegedly installed the state regulator for pharmacists through Blagojevich in order to ensure a friendly ride, and who allegedly helped Bhatt fend off Medicaid fraud investigators.

The entire rotten edifice of Illinois politics has started to crumble.  I doubt anyone connected to it will come up clean, and right now it looks as though a lot of people will wind up in prison.