While Sen. Barack Obama takes great pride in having recruited more than 1.2 million donors to his presidential campaign — many of whom contributed less than $100 — he hasn’t always been a man in touch with the grass roots.
Indeed, his early campaigns for the Illinois state Senate were heavily financed by well-connected business leaders, lobbyists, trial lawyers, and labor unions, a Newsmax review of campaign finance records shows.
Obama launched his first campaign for the Illinois Senate in July 1995 with a $5,000 loan from Al Johnson, a prominent Cadillac dealer in Chicago who was a close crony of Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
Johnson boasted of having provided luxury cars to Jackson free of charge, as I reported in my 2002 book, "Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson."
Johnson added another $2,000 to the pot as a contribution to the campaign in September 1995, making him Obama’s single largest supporter.
Not all of the Friends of Obama campaign reports are available online through the state of Illinois Web site. While there is no specific record available showing that he paid off the $5,000 loan to Al Johnson, his June 30, 1997 financial statement shows that his campaign’s debts had been reduced from $12,494.38 to $3,637.01.
The connection to Johnson came through Michelle Obama, who reportedly had been close to Jesse Jackson and his family since childhood.
Obama’s only other contributor in the early days of his campaign was Tony Rezko, the Chicago slumlord and developer convicted in July on 12 counts of wire and mail fraud.
Rezko gave Obama $2,000 in July 1995 as corporate donations from Lakeside Refreshments and Rezko Foods, both of which he controlled.
Obama has said he never intervened on behalf of Rezko in state or federal business, and did not benefit from a sweatheart land deal with the convicted felon, although Rezko sold him a lot next to Obama’s house in Chicago at what appeared to be below-market prices.
But in the 1990s, Obama’s Chicago lawfirm represented Rezko and his company, Rezmar Corp, as Rezko won government grants to build low-income housing for the poor. Both Rezko and his wife, Rita, worked on Obama’s first state Senate campaign in 1995, in addition to contributing money directly and through corporate entities.
Once Obama was elected as a first-time state senator in 1996, he turned increasingly to big labor and big donors. Money from Political Action Committees (PACs) — the vehicles used by lobbyists and labor unions — often outweighed contributions from individuals by as much as 10-to-1.
For the first half of 1997, for example, he collected $12,200 from PACs and trial lawyers, and just $4,175 from individuals. But even here, $2,000 of the money accounted for as individual contributions came from Rezko Concessions and Rezmar Corp, both of which were controlled by Tony Rezko.
For the first half of 1998, this trend continued, with just $1,505 collected from individuals and $13,500 from PACs. Tony Rezko provided food valued at $457.70 that was listed as an “in-kind” contribution.
As the 1998 elections approached, Obama picked up close to $30,000 from individuals, and an additional $23,850 from lobbyists.
His single largest contribution — $5,000 — was from the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education (IPACE), the political arm of the state teachers’ union.
His second largest — $3,000 — came from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. Next, with $1,000 each, came PACs representing the Teamsters, Social Workers, lawyers, dentists, the Chicago Teacher’s Union. A wide variety of local and federal labor unions gave him smaller amounts.
By January 1999, lobbyists and lawyers had become his single largest source of funding.
For the first half of 2000, Obama no longer bothered to solicit individual campaign contributors, while raising $14,600 from the lobbyists.
Even though 2000 was an election year, he only raised $2,400 from individuals that fall, while raking in $28,560 from lobbyists and lawyers. And of the $2,400 from individuals, more than half came from Evanston, Ill., lawyer, Larry Suffredin Jr.
“Obama’s source of support comes from the very far left of the Democrat party — unions, trial lawyers, social workers — not individuals,” said Cleta Mitchell, a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm Foley and Lardner, which specializes in campaign finance law.
“So, now they try to say they have all this money from little people. He didn’t get there with small contributions from little people. He got there with being financed for a number of years by ultra left wing interests.”
It was those larger interests that provided the seed money and expertise that allowed the Obama campaign to build the broad base of smaller donors that his campaign now boasts of having recruited, Mitchell told Newsmax.
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