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Was Tony Rezko Obama's First Donor? It Depends.

I listened to David Freddoso's appearance on a WGN radio show hosted by U. of Chicago Sociologist Milt Rosenberg, where Freddoso debated Dan Johnson Weinberger, an Illinois lawyer supporting Obama. Both sides overstated their positions -- pro and con Obama - but I didn't hear much that would justify the Obama campaign's response.

The most heated exchange was over whether Tony Rezko was Obama's first donor when he first ran for the Illinois Senate in 1995-96. Freddoso said he was; Weinberger said he wasn't. Freddoso then partially backed down and said that perhaps Rezko was the second donor.

If one limits the analysis to donations, Freddoso was correct the first time: Rezko tied for Obama's first donor. If one includes loans as well as donations, then Rezko ties for the second donor to Obama's campaign, though even that earlier loan came from someone who has ties to Rezko.

What the early donation patterns show is that Rezko (and people Rezko has had business ties to) were the primary people launching Obama's finances in his first campaign. By a few months later, others had donated, including prominent liberals, lawyers from his firm, real estate developers, and the ACORN-linked union, SEIU.

Obama's fundraising started in July 1995. Before mid-September 1995, he had one loan and three donations:

7/13/1995 LOAN: $5,000 Al Johnson (a Cadillac dealer, "who was trying to get a casino license along with Tony Rezko" at some point)

7/31/1995 DONATION: $1,000 Rezko Foods

7/31/1995 DONATION: $1,000 Lakefront Refreshments (a Rezko company)

7/31/1995 DONATION: $300 Barry Mcnamara (also a Cadillac dealer)

So Barack Obama's first three actual donations were from two Rezko companies (contributing $2,000) and an individual (contributing $300), though there was an earlier loan from a man who was seeking a casino license with Rezko.

Obama's first donations from outside Illinois were from a New York individual (Fatema Chandoo, who shares a last name with one of Obama's college buddies) and from the SEIU Local 880 Politcal Fund, 1024 Elysian Field Av, New Orleans, LA 70117-8402, one of the many infamous ACORN-associated organizations.

More here, here, here, here, and here.

Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
Shouldn't it be about time for the Obama lynch mob to arrive? (Providing the campaign notices, that is.)
9.17.2008 11:03pm
Carl W. (mail):
I'm not even an Obama supporter, but I don't see how any of this actually matters at all to any American seriously concerned about the state of the country. Particularly in light of recent events. I think it is pretty ridiculous to think we can extrapolate out anything about either of the candidates from a list of their donors over 10 years ago. Ah well.
9.17.2008 11:05pm
Recovering Law Grad:
This post does not shed any light on any issues of current importance to the nation.

I mean, are we really citing to Newsmax? Sad.
9.17.2008 11:08pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Fascinating stuff. Meanwhile, in trivia-ville, Obama is now up 4 points in the last two days of the national Gallup poll, and +5 in the most recent CBS/NYT.

But what with the stock market losing another 450 points today, the AIG deal, Palin's approval dropping (hint: refusing to deal with subpoenas doesn't help), I could see why it's important who Obama's first donor was.
9.17.2008 11:09pm
DangerMouse:
Looks like the Infanticide Candidate has lots of ties to the Chicago mob.
9.17.2008 11:10pm
AlanW (mail):
I'd like to think I have a fair level of tolerance for this stuff, but, dude, get a hobby. Stamp collecting is poised for a comeback.
9.17.2008 11:16pm
Dr. Guest:
I could care less about this, kind of like I could care less about what happened to a disgruntled librarian in the mid-90s. Yet the NYT makes that part of a front-page story. Go figure.
9.17.2008 11:39pm
karl newman:
Who were McCain's first four donors? If he could just return the federal election money he took, that would be cool. We future taxpayers have another 2-3 companies to bail out tomorrow, we kinda need the cash right now.
9.17.2008 11:41pm
TruthInAdvertising:
I'm waiting for Lindgren to fill us in on who funded Governor Palin's race for the statehouse in Alaska.
9.17.2008 11:51pm
Floridan:
Yawn
9.18.2008 12:16am
Sagar (mail):
I guess VC can stop posting (blogging) about politics now. Regardless of what is revealed, people are not going to change their minds - Obama supporters will defend anything and everything he did and make a big deal of any perceived Palin or McCain negative, while his detractors will do the opposite.

A normal discussion seems to be out of question.
9.18.2008 12:59am
Nunzio:
Obama's an Illinois politician, that's for sure.

In fairness to Obama, though, Rezko's shady dealings are only going to bring down Gov. Blagojevich.

Obama didn't do anything criminally wrong in accepting Rezko's donations or having Rezko, in 2005 while Obama knew Rezko was under federal investigation, buy the property next door to his house because the former owner had wanted to sell the house and the vacant lot next door as part of a single deal.

Obama couldn't afford to buy both at the time because he only had one autobiography on the shelves. So Rezko helped out and bought the vacant lot, and Obama was then able to buy the house for $1.5 million. Again, Obama did nothing criminal here.

And, anyway, Obama's helped to pass an ethics bill when he was a state senator and another ethics bill while he's been a U.S. Senator. So Obama is a strong supporter of ethics.
9.18.2008 1:21am
good strategy (mail):

A normal discussion seems to be out of question.


A normal discussion about what?

Why have a "normal" discussion about agenda items of little to no relevance being put forth as part of a political strategy? Remember, this is not a campaign about the issues. (Great. The marketplace of ideas is closed for renovation, but they still have something to sell. Let's have a normal discussion about that.)


Shouldn't it be about time for the Obama lynch mob to arrive? (Providing the campaign notices, that is.)


You really, really don't understand Obama activists if you think they require top-down activation. Democrats may not be as unified as some would like from a political effectiveness point of view, but that unwillingness to read predetermined talking points seems like something libertarian minded people would appreciate. Obama's support isn't pure grassroots, obviously the campaign adds some fertilizer, but it isn't an army of monoliths, either.
9.18.2008 1:24am
BGates:
that unwillingness to read predetermined talking points

I didn't get the latest Action Alert. Are we supposed to say we're unwilling to read predetermined talking points now?
9.18.2008 3:31am
NickM (mail) (www):
The use of William Ayers's home for Obama's first campaign event, of course, was not required to be reported under the applicable campaign finance laws.

Nick
9.18.2008 6:18am
JosephSlater (mail):
BGates wins the thread.
9.18.2008 10:01am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Professor Lindgren, are you going to post about questionable donors of Mr. McCain's prior campaigns, such as Charles Keating, or are you content to be a propagandist for the anti-Obama people?
9.18.2008 2:19pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Obama didn't do anything criminally wrong in accepting Rezko's donations or having Rezko, in 2005 while Obama knew Rezko was under federal investigation, buy the property next door to his house because the former owner had wanted to sell the house and the vacant lot next door as part of a single deal."

Elections are not courts of law. Nobody needs to be proven guilty of a criminal offense to lose an election because of his actions.
9.18.2008 3:14pm
byomtov (mail):
I await Lindgren's analysis of the early career and associates of McCain's father-in-law, whose money has certainly aided McCain's career.
9.18.2008 3:19pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I await Lindgren's analysis of the early career and associates of McCain's father-in-law, whose money has certainly aided McCain's career.

That's unfair. Cindy's convicted felon dad had already served his Federal time by the time McCain started dating her, while Rezko's conviction was far in the future while Obama was associated with him.

In the 60s and 70s, Cadillac dealer Al Johnson was one of the three wealthy, self-made black men of his name in Chicago. Even white people would buy Cadillacs from him. The others ran Johnson Publishing (Jet, Ebony, etc.) and Johnson Products (Afro-Sheen, Ultra-Sheen, etc.) Al would be the sort of solid businessman who could be a partner in a c4sino. But, according to the linked Sun-Times article, Obama opposed the Rosemont c4sino Al Johnson and Rezko were supposedly interested in.
9.18.2008 4:04pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

By a few months later, others had donated, including... the ACORN-linked union, SEIU.

According to the wikipedia article on ACORN, it was not associated with SEIU until 2003, long after the 1995 time period discussed here. Does Prof. Lindgren have any evidence that they were linked at the relevant times?
9.18.2008 4:08pm