Syndicated columnist Dick Morris, appearing Wednesday on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, cited a Newsmax.com report to assert that former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris "made a down payment" on his Senate appointment made by donating over $15,000 to Illinois Gov. Rod J. Blagojevich's campaign.
The Morris exchange with O'Reilly:
Morris: On Burris in Illinois.
Morris: You know that he gave Blagojevich $15,000 for his campaign. This guy made a down payment.
O'Reilly: Well, Burris is going to be seated.
Morris: Newsmax is my source. Newsmax is my source on that.
Morris was referring to a Dec. 30 Newsmax report that Burris is a lobbyist who has contributed over $15,000 to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign organization, while also receiving contracts from the state of Illinois. As O'Reilly noted during the program, Senate Democrats have backed down on their initial opposition to the Burris appointment, and now appear likely to seat him as a senator.
Friends of Blagojevich is the entity federal prosecutors bugged for evidence that Blagojevich was putting Obama's seat up for sale to the highest bidder. Transcripts from FBI listening devices and wiretaps suggest the governor repeatedly tried to leverage influence in return for contributions to his campaign committee.
Good government proponents have voiced sharp criticism 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.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Burris and his companies have donated $15,296 to Blagojevich since 2002.
State records show that Burris & Lebed Consulting - a government-relations, media, and political consultancy firm - was placed on a special 2005 list of 19 Illinois companies to be favored by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) due to minority ownership, and was awarded an IDOT contract valued at $300,000 to recruit firms for construction work.
Burris also formerly worked with his son's law firm, Burris, Wright, Slaughter & Tom, LLC, which had a contract doing bond business for the state.
Asked Dec. 30 if he had obtained state government contracts, Burris replied: "Oh sure. We had a - that is, the consulting firm had a small contract - we had a contract with IDOT, where we certified minority businesses and we did a good job. And I think the law firm of which I am 'of counsel,' that was my son's law firm, and we received some bond business and we were co-bond counsel as a minority firm, and we did a tremendous job."
Burris said he did not know the specific value of those contracts.
Federal records indicate Burris also donated over $2,000 to the campaigns of Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
Better government advocates strongly protested the Burris appointment.
"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. "More strikingly, by making an appointment that the Illinois secretary of state refuses to certify and the U.S. Senate refuses to seat, both Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Burris show a disconnect from the sad political reality of this situation."
Blagojevich and 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.
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