The political and financial ties between embattled Illinois Gov. Rod J. Blagojevich and Senate appointee Roland Burris run much deeper than previously reported – possibly involving deals worth millions of dollars and an $80,000 per year job given to the governor’s wife.
Among the latest revelations: The Chicago Sun-Times reports that clients of Burris’ lobby firm donated $107,690 to Blagojevich while winning over $3 million in contracts from the state. Burris-related donations to the Blagojevich campaign are greater than previously reported. Including donations from a law firm Burris works for, and the actual figure exceeds $20,000, CNN and the Chicago Sun-Times report. Burris hosted a $1,000 a plate dinner for Blagojevich during his 2006 bid for reelection as Illinois’ governor. Burris also earned $30,000 in 2003 for his work on a $10 billion state pension-bond offering, the newspaper reports. In September, Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, who was overheard uttering expletives on federal wiretaps that led to “pay-to-play” corruption charges leveled against the governor, was given a $80,000 a-year-job with the Chicago Christian Industrial League (CCIL), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to render assistance to families in need.
The Chicago Tribune reports CCIL has received over $2 million in state funds since Blagojevich became governor. Patti Blagojevich was hired as the organization’s developmental director despite a lack of prior fund-raising experience. Fred G. Ledbed, co-owner of Burris’ lobbying firm, Burris & Lebed Consulting, Inc., is a CCIL board member.
Burris & Lebed Consulting, Inc. has donated thousands to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign organization that was the target of federal surveillance.
When the CCIL fund-raising appointment was announced, the governor’s wife denied her career change was related to the fact that some of her real estate deals were coming under federal scrutiny.
CCIL officials did not respond Thursday to a Newsmax request for further information about her role or status with the organization.
Good government proponents in Illinois have been sharply critical of the Burris appointment. Although Burris has not been connected to any wrongdoing, they worry the appointment could further exacerbate the state’s “pay-to-play” image of political corruption, due to Burris’ status as both a Blagojevich donor and a state contractor.
“Blagojevich's appointment of Burris, whose firm has held state contracts, illustrates his disconnect from the public's ire on pay to play politics in Illinois,” Cyndi Canary, the executive director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, told Newsmax.
Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested last month for allegedly trying to barter or sell the Illinois U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by Obama.
Senate Democrats initially vowed not to seat Burris in the Senate, but have now softened their stance. Burris could clear a major hurdle Thursday, if his testimony before the Illinois House impeachment panel is well received.
Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, had predicted the Burris appointment would inevitably be seen as tainted.
“The Democratic majority obviously did not want to seat Burris, fearing that because of his nomination by the disgraced Blagojevich, Burris would stand as a constant reminder of the pay-for-play scandal that nearly resulted in President-elect Obama’s Senate seat going to the highest bidder,” Alt told Newsmax Thursday.
Alt added, “However, now that it has become obvious that Burris is not simply going to go away, Majority Leader Reid and his colleagues are forced to make concessions, or face a nearly certain loss in court.”
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