Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Illinois loves cheaters

Tribune columnist Eric Zorn notices his disdain for Judy Baar Topinka and realizes that it was manufactured from the blitz of TV commercials from Rod Blagojevich.

He is realizing the attacks are largely made up and that Topinka has been an honest, effective state Treasurer.

Zorn is in the minority, according to polls. Blagojevich is headed for re-election, if the trends continue. Zorn needs to take his column a step further. He needs to ask why Blagojevich has the money to air so many TV commercials.

The answer is that he cheated. His fundraising operation is under multiple federal investigations and when all the federal smoke has cleared, it is highly likely that he and most of his fundraisers will have been indicted. Unless they are media superstars like Barack Obama, lackluster congressmen like Rod Blagojevich do not suddenly raise $52 million without breaking the rules.

If Rod pulls off a victory next week, it will mean Illinois has selected the following two governors: George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, both who padded their campaign treasury with ill-gotten funds. Rejected along the way were four people who raised far less cash but according to the rules: Glenn Poshard, Paul Vallas, Jim Ryan and Topinka. Each would have been a far better governor and would have stayed out of prison.

Illinois loves its cheaters.

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Blago's curious amendment

We've already seen belated disclosures by Governor Rod Blagojevich that were telling -- most notably the addition of Mike Ascaridis and others after the governor was interviewed by the FBI.

Here's another one that probably has some linkage to the federal investigation.

On Aug. 25 of this year, the Blagojevich campaign filed an amendment to its semi-annual campaign disclosure for July-December 2003. The campaign routinely files amendments for recently filed reports but never one for a report nearly three years ago.

The amendment covers the same time period of the "Shakedown Shuttle" plane trip where Blago, Stuart Levine, Chris Kelly and Joe Cari went to New York to shake the trees for campaign contributions and the contributors shook back for state pension business.

Why did the Blagojevich campaign file the amendment? When comparing the original report and amendment, no dollar figures were changed -- just addresses, company names, occupations of donors, etc. Hardly a compelling reason to file an amendment three years later unless there's something else at issue.

Could Willliam Howell be the reason?

Howell is a Rockville Centre, NY, businessman who has embroiled in at least two major controversies surrounding consulting fees. One was in NY in 2001 and another in Pennsylvania in connection to a federal investigation of influence peddling surrounding the administrations of Governor Ed Rendell and Mayor John Street of Philadelphia. As far as I can tell, Howell was never charged in either of these matters although his name was front and center in newspaper reports.

Well, William Howell was one of the people Rod Blagojevich was scheduled to meet on Oct. 29, 2003, the day of the Shakedown Shuttle flight.

A few days later, Howell gave the Blagojevich campaign $10,000 and then another $10,000 on Feb. 23, 2004.

Howell listed "Pension Enhancement Consulting, Inc." as his company on his original Blagojevich D2 filing. The amendment changes Howell's company name to "Enrhythm LLC."

Why the name change? Pension Enhancement Consulting is a defunct company under the corporate umbrella of Investment Management Advisory Group, Inc., or IMAGE, the company in the middle of the Pennsylvania/Philadelphia corruption investigation a couple of years ago.

John Kass likes to talk about the Illinois "combine" of political corruption. In Blagojevich's case, the combine looks like it was multi-state.

The belated disclosure tells me William Howell is a name to watch in the months ahead as the feds lower the boom on Blagojevich's fundraising scheme.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

A pundit who gets it

Steve Rhodes zeroed in on the two most important points from Stuart Levine's plea agreement on Friday.

Make no mistake - despite the governor's protestations and the unrealistic unmet expectations of some pundits who thought the governor would be personally implicated by now, the plea deal of Stuart Levine does not exonerate the governor. Far from it. Instead, federal investigators have closed the circle tighter around the governor
And, why?

More important than the past, though, is how this deal is a roadmap to the future. While John Kass's stellar column on Sunday was not unreasonably focused on Downstate power broker Bill Cellini, the more telling aspect of Levine's deal in my mind was the implication of Blagojevich's pal, Chris Kelly, in wrongdoing. Kelly and the recently-indicted Tony Rezko have been the governor's two closest advisors.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Without a clue at AP

Associated Press writer Deanna Bellandi is a nice person but she completely mischaracterized the Stuart Levine plea agreement in a story circulating to newspapers across the state.

Details about corruption in state government keep dribbling out, but observers say it's unlikely to affect the Nov. 7 election without a direct link to Blagojevich - something Levine's plea deal with federal prosecutors doesn't provide.

"That's the key," said Chicago political consultant Don Rose.
Bellandi either hasn't read the plea agreement or is too busy buying the utter baloney regularly dispensed by the Blagojevich administration.

Here's how the Chicago Tribune characterized that same plea agreement. Reporters there noticed a very direct link to the governor.

In the 58-page plea agreement, federal authorities spell out allegations that Blagojevich's two top fundraisers schemed almost from the beginning of the governor's administration to use their newfound influence for corrupt purposes.

The plea agreement identifies Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who has already been indicted on federal corruption charges, as one of those close advisers. The other fundraiser, who is not charged, is identified only as "Individual B." Sources identify him as Christopher Kelly, a south suburban roofing contractor who became a loyal Blagojevich confidant.
Now, if Bellandi wants to argue that Blagojevich is detached from Rezko and Kelly, perhaps she is choosing to ignore the hundreds of stories the past few years that suggest otherwise. Blagojevich has done his two-step away from Tony Rezko since his indictment earlier this month, but not Chris Kelly. In a visit just over a week ago to the Daily Southtown, the governor had this to say about Chris Kelly:

Q: Are you confident that Chris Kelly is not going to be indicted?

A: Yeah. Yes. They're two different people, by the way, and it's a different relationship. Chris and I are much closer. Chris is the head of my political campaign. That's someone I talk to a lot more frequently. I'm confident, yes.
That sounds like a pretty direct link to Blagojevich, Deanna.

Kelly is all over the Levine plea agreement. He is Individual B.

According to the feds, Kelly was instrumental, along with Rezko, in getting Stuart Levine reappointed to the state Health Facilities Planning Board and TRS Board.
In about August 2003, Defendant was re-appointed to the Planning Board. Prior to that point, Defendant discussed his possible re-appointment with Individual A and, separately, with Individual B. Individual A said he'd get back to Defendant about his request and later called Defendant and said that it would happen. A short time later, Defendant was at a meeting in Rezko's office with Individual B and Individual B said that the board seat Defendant wanted had been taken care of. Defendant understood from these conversations that he would be re-appointed to the Planning Board.

About the time Defendant was re-appointed, Rezko and Defendant discussed Defendant's appointment and Rezko said that he had suggested that Defendant be made the vice-chairman of the Planning Board and that Rezko expected to influence a certain number of
votes on the Planning Board. In February 2004, the Planning Board elected Defendant as vice-chairman.

In or about the spring of 2004, Rezko and Defendant agreed that Defendant, whose term on the TRS Board was due to expire in May 2004, needed to be reappointed to the TRS Board and that additional TRS Board members needed to be appointed who would
cooperate with Rezko and Defendant. Rezko agreed to use his relationships and influence with high-ranking State of Illinois officials to facilitate these efforts. Rezko subsequently indicated to Defendant that Rezko had arranged for Defendant to be
re-appointed to the TRS Board, and Defendant was re-appointed on about May 14, 2004.
Kelly also helped block consolidation of pension agencies so the TRS could continue to be plundered, according to the plea agreement.

Defendant was a member of the TRS Board of Trustees from approximately October 2000 through about July 2004. In that capacity, Defendant owed the beneficiaries of TRS a duty of honest services. Defendant was also a member of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board ("Planning Board") from about August 1996 through about June 2004, and was last re-appointed to the Planning Board in about August 2003. In that capacity, Defendant owed the people of the State of Illinois a duty of honest services.

In or about the spring of 2003, when certain State of Illinois officials advocated consolidating TRS, the Illinois State Board of Investment, and the State University Retirement System, into a single pension fund, Individual A approached Rezko and Individual B on behalf of Defendant and Individual A for assistance in defeating this proposal. Defendant and Individual A were against the pension consolidation idea because they wanted to preserve their influence and Defendant's position with TRS.

Defendant understood that Rezko and Individual B had significant influence with the State of Illinois administration because of their relationships with senior State of Illinois officials and their roles as important fundraisers. Defendant learned from Individual
A that Rezko and Individual B agreed to use their relationships and influence with senior State of Illinois officials to oppose the pension consolidation plan in exchange for the agreement of Defendant and Individual A to use their influence and Defendant's position at TRS to ensure that TRS used investment firms and hired lawyers identified by Rezko and Individual B. Defendant agreed to assist Rezko and Individual B with TRS in exchange for their help defeating the consolidation proposal.
And Kelly was allegedly part of a a scheme to shake-down a company for either a $2 million consulting contract or for a $1.5 million donation to a "certain public official," presumably Blagojevich.
On or about May 10, 2004, Rezko, Defendant, Individual A, and Individual B agreed that in light of Individual J's reaction, it was too risky to continue demanding money from Investment Firm 7 or blocking its $220 million allocation. They further agreed that
although Investment Firm 7 would receive the $220 million allocation, it would not receive any further business from any State of Illinois entity, including TRS.

On about May 25, 2004, the TRS Board, including Defendant, voted to invest a total of $220 million with Investment Firm 7. Defendant intentionally concealed from and failed to disclose to the TRS Board material facts relating to its consideration of the application for funds of Investment Firm 7, including his arrangements with Rezko, Individual A, and Individual B.
Associated Press cannot continue to be played by the Blagojevich administration with mindless he said, she said reporting. There is the largest corruption scandal in the history of Illinois brewing under Blago's watch and AP is giving equal weight in some stories to the almost meaningless fact that some Republicans took a few campaign donations from a few participants in Blagojevich's corruption.

AP ought to be going after the real story here. It ought to be asking the governor why he continues to support and defend his only remaining top fundraiser not under indictment, Chris Kelly, when the federal government has so concretely said he is participating in illegal schemes.

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Baseball gods make amends for 1968


The ghosts of 1968, 1985 and 1987 have been zapped in the Red October sky of St. Louis. Particularly 1968. That Cardinals' team was loaded with talent and was ahead 3 games to 1, winning exactly the same pattern of games the 2006 team did after four games. The 1968 Cardinals lost their last three games to the Detroit Tigers, while this year's team finished off the Tigers in five games.

I'll never forget the pain of that '68 loss, just as Chuck and Eric will never forgot the joy. The 1985 Cards also broke a lot of Midwestern hearts, blowing a 3 to 1 series lead, as did the 1987 Cards with a 3 to 2 lead.

When the Tigers' Curtis Granderson slipped in CF in game four and a key hit dropped behind him, I guarantee every STL fan over 40 thought immediately of Curt Flood and that errant step forward that helped lose game 7 in 1968. When Granderson went down, STL fans knew the curse of the outfield divot had been exorcised and the series was over.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rod's Shakedown Shuttle

Stulevinejetcabin-1Shakedown Shuttle Schedule
It was the Super Bowl of dirty Illinois politics.

We're not here, to start no trouble, we're just here to do the Shakedown Shuttle.

As I posted here before, the flight cabin of the jet above might have been a crime scene. That's where indicted businessman Stuart Levine and indicted fundraiser Joe Cari sat right next to Governor Rod Blagojevich for almost two hours on Oct. 29, 2003, close enough for Stu to spill coffee on Rod.

On Friday, when he pleads guilty, it's possible Stu will be spilling much more than coffee on Rod's fundraising apparatus.

Why is it being called the Shakedown Shuttle? Because the central theme of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's "gathering storm" investigation into corruption in the Blagojevich administration was in full blossom on that flight.

Levine, Blagojevich and Democratic fundraiser Joe Cari were on board for a day of fundraising activity in New York. Levine booked the corporate jet above that departed from O'Hare in the morning. Levine and Cari have since been indicted and Blagojevich is under heavy federal scrutiny. Another indictee was scheduled to be on board, Tony Rezko, but the Blagojevich administration is now saying that he was replaced at the last minute by Rod's other top fundraiser, Chris Kelly -- also under intense federal scrutiny.

Within days of meeting with various firms and individuals that day, more than $120,000 showed up in Blagojevich's campaign funds. Within weeks of those donations, the donors were awarded lucrative and questionable state contracts by the Blagojevich administration. The Sun-Times already has reported that the feds are investigating circumstances surrounding the trip and several others like it.

To top it off, several of the individuals the Blagojevich people met with that day in New York have themselves been indicted since the meetings on charges unrelated to Blagojevich.

Well, how did the donations and contracts come so quickly right after the flight? All the people on that flight, including Deputy Governor Brad Tusk, could have made it happen. What are the chances those post-flight events happened without the knowledge of people on that flight? Right, about zero.

Again, stay tuned. With Levine's plea agreement expected Friday and rumors of indictments swirling in the crisp October air, it could be a startling end of the week.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More on our rubber stamps



As we mentioned last evening, Democrat Tammy Duckworth loves to repeat the phrase "rubber stamp" when referring to her Republican opponent in the 6th Congressional District, Peter Roskam.

But how do Tammy's biggest supporters among Illinois Democrats compare? According to the Hill Monitor (via Marathon Pundit), U.S. Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel epitomize Ms. Duckworth's prize phrase.

Durbin and Obama rate #3 and #4 most partisan Democrats in the Senate and Emanuel is at #58 among Democratic congressmen.

You'll rarely if ever see the Illinois media referring to Durbin, Obama or Emanuel as "liberal" or "partisan." If we had Republican senators with that kind of rating, do you think the media would refrain from calling them "conservative?"

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Who's the rubber stamp?

Just watched the WTTW-11 debate between Tammy Duckworth and Peter Roskam, who are vying to replace Henry Hyde in the 6th Congressional District.

Duckworth repeatedly and robotically said that Roskam would be a "rubber stamp" for a Republican Congress and would give the President a "blank check."

After that performance, I'd say there's one "rubber stamp" candidate in the race and she repeats whatever Rahm Emanuel and the national Democrats tell her to say.

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Feds closing in on the missing link?


Chuck Goudie of ABC 7 Chicago said this evening that the hammer might be about to come down on Rod Blagojevich's closest confidant, Chris Kelly (pictured above).

To cut through all the spin, it is necessary to go back to the Joe Cari plea agreement, which, in my opinion, reveals the central theme in U.S. Attorney Patrick's Fitzgerald's pursuit of corruption in the Blagojevich administration.

(Stuart) Levine said that a high ranking Illinois public official ("Public Official A"), acting through two close associates, was selecting consultants for the private equity funds that appeared before the State Pension Funds. Levine said that this was part of a fundraising strategy. Levine said that Public Official A, and his associates, were going to pick law firms, investment banking firms, and consultants that would help Public Official A.
Joe Cari has been indicted and is pleading guilty. Stuart Levine has been indicted and will be pleading guilty. One of the two close associates of Public Official A, Tony Rezko, has been indicted. The other close associate amounts to the missing link: Chris Kelly. Goudie reported that Levine's plea agreement Friday could close the loop.

Sources close to the investigation tell the I-Team that the secret recordings Levine made while conducting crooked deals could be the missing link to several of Governor Blagojevich's top associates and campaign fundraisers. Among them: the governor's political guru Christopher Kelly, a roofer by trade who has been identified by federal sources as "individual B" in the Levine indictment.
If Levine's plea agreement heavily implicates certain individuals I wonder if Patrick Fitzgerald will indict them before the plea agreement is made public?

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Being a plodder has its advantages


I see that the Chicago Marathon winner took a nasty spill at the finish line. At least I saw it on the news and not at the race, where I was at about mile 14 when this occurred.

To take a spill like that, a runner has to be generating sufficient speed to upend his self. My first steps on that red mat today nearly two hours later were akin to a car inching into a parking space and stopping.

I once was a well above average runner, finishing in the top 150 in the Shamrock Shuffle. But these days, not so much. Since I began running the Chicago Marathon four years ago, my times are trending the wrong way: 3:54, 4:03, DNF because of a pulled hamstring, 4:12 today.

Marathon Pundit can break 4 hours in his sleep and he's run dozens of 26.2 mile races. I don't know how long he's going to keep doing it, but I'm reassessing my future in this sport. Those last 7 miles are very painful, even without the finish line crack on the head.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Sun-Times endorses corruption

When a newspaper (Sun-Times) spends the first sentences in an endorsement (Blagojevich) trying to inoculate itself against potential indictments related to the person it is endorsing, it might be time to pick a different person to endorse.

Endorsing a candidate with more than 2½ weeks left in the campaign is a little like calling a horse race in the last lap -- anything could happen before the finish line. Each day can bring a revelation affecting a campaign.
And this...

There's no denying the cloud of scandal over his administration. One of his chief fund-raisers, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, was indicted last week for alleged shakedowns for campaign contributions. More revelations likely will come right before the election when power broker Stuart Levine is expected to plead guilty. The governor said the charges against Rezko, if true, represent a personal betrayal by Rezko, and that he himself has never been involved in any unethical or illegal fund-raising. Our experience with Blagojevich prompts us to take him at his word. We've chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt and endorse him for a number of reasons.
There's no need spending a lot of time analyzing this endorsement. It makes little sense. It ignores what is real -- a gathering storm of indictments -- and elevates what is not, Rod's hollow health care gimmicks.

What the Sun-Times has not prepared its readers for are indictments before the Levine plea agreement. I am picking up strong signals that some of Rod's close associates could be indicted as soon as next week. We'll see. In the meantime, the Sun-Times editorial board should more carefully read the stories written by its own reporters and others, and the telltale court filings by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to get a clue where this is headed.

Hint: The Sun-Times will eat this endorsement -- it's just a matter of when.

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38 years later, the rematch


One of my most vivid memories of baseball is encapsulated in the program above. I had that program for many years and it was thrown away at some time, only to re-emerge when I found this website this morning.

I was 10 years old when my father took me to game 1 of the 1968 World Series, one of the most anticipated pitching matchups in WS history. Bob Gibson had just completed one of the finest seasons by a pitcher in the modern era with a 1.12 ERA. He was opposed by 31-game winner Denny McLain.

My dad had a pass to the Stadium Club at old Busch, a 1960s era "skybox" perched in fair territory near the left field foul pole. We hung around there for about half the game and then visited some friends of my dad in a section behind home plate. My dad knew many of the players and umpires and we somehow were allowed to sit in the aisles next to these wonderful seats and saw Gibson mow down the Tigers, striking out 17.

One of the best baseball writers ever, Roger Angell, devoted a chapter to Gibson's performance that afternoon and interviewed Tigers' hitters Willie Horton, Al Kaline and Norm Cash. They said Gibson on that day was the best pitcher they'd ever seen.

I remember the imagery of Tigers' batters swinging and missing at rising fast balls, utterly helpless.

Of course the Series turned out to deeply disappointing to that 10-year-old kid after Detroit rose from a 3-1 deficit in games and won game 7 after Curt Flood, a man who my father introduced me to, broke the wrong way on a late inning fly ball and Mickey Lolich shut the door on the Redbirds.

Back then, the heavily favored Cardinals were disappointed. I'm hoping that 38 years later, the heavily favored Tigers will return the favor.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Kelly and the Rezko indictment

Rod Blagojevich has two top fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko. Rezko got indicted last week and Rod said he never saw it coming. He has the same blind spot about Kelly.

However, you don't have to look very hard to see that the feds continue to point the finger at Kelly and they aren't being subtle. Rich Miller astutely picks up on this in his column in the Daily Southtown.

But Kelly plays a significant role in the prosecutors' version of Rezko's alleged lawbreaking. Kelly's alleged role also was highlighted in Democratic fundraiser Joe Cari's guilty plea.
Let's set the stage first with the key paragraph from the Joe Cari plea agreement, where the feds for the first time reveal the possible existence of a massive illegal fundraising scheme orchestrated by Kelly and Rezko on behalf of Blagojevich.
Levine said that a high ranking Illinois public official ("Public Official A"), acting through two close associates, was selecting consultants for the private equity funds that appeared before the State Pension Funds. Levine said that this was part of a fundraising strategy. Levine said that Public Official A, and his associates, were going to pick law firms, investment banking firms, and consultants that would help Public Official A.
Now let's go to the Rezko indictment. Media outlets are reporting that "Individual B" is Kelly.

In or about the spring of 2003, when certain State of Illinois officials advocated consolidating TRS, the Illinois State Board of Investment, and the State University Retirement System, into a single pension fund, LEVINE and Individual A approached REZKO and Individual B for assistance in defeating this proposal. REZKO and Individual B agreed to use their relationships and influence with high-ranking State of Illinois officials to oppose the pension consolidation plan, and in exchange, LEVINE and Individual A agreed to use their influence and LEVINE's position at TRS to ensure that TRS used investment firms and hired lawyers identified by REZKO and Individual B.
The Cari-plea scheme and the scheme described above are the same. The only thing that is missing in the Rezko indictment is that the government does not explicitly say that the firms and lawyers picked by Kelly and Rezko were done so to help the fundraising scheme on behalf of Blagojevich. It doesn't rule it out, either. It uses terminology like "Levine, Rezko, their nominees and associates" in describing the beneficiaries of the scheme. Anyway, this haziness in the indictment undoubtedly is tactical and will be rectified in 11 days when the Levine plea agreement is filed.

Why do I say this with such confidence? Common sense. We already know that Kelly and Rezko were Blagjovich's two top fundraisers. We know that Blagojevich has raised an all-time record of more than $50 million since 2001. And we know Blago's campaign fund was harvesting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from firms with pension business.
Last October, after the plea deal, a Sun-Times analysis of campaign contributions found that Blagojevich netted more than $500,000 in donations tied to firms doing business with state pension systems.
I don't believe in osmosis when it comes to Blagojevich's fundraising. Of course that scheme was benefiting Rod.

Why is Rod saying the indictment has nothing to do with Kelly, when it clearly has a lot to do with Kelly?

And, since this is more than "rumor and innuendo" what does Rod say about Patrick Fitzgerald accusing Kelly of helping orchestrate some of the illegal schemes in the indictment?
It was part of the scheme that defendants REZKO and LEVINE, with the assistance of Cari, Loren, Kiferbaum, Individual A, Individual B, and others, fraudulently used and sought to use the position and influence of LEVINE and other members of the TRS Board of Trustees and the Planning Board to obtain financial benefits for REZKO, LEVINE, and their nominees and associates.
All questions for the media to ponder this week. They already are pondering them in another state, where political writers from the Milwaukee Journal are wondering why Kelly gave the governor there a campaign donation.

If there's a person an incumbent governor in a tough re-election fight doesn't want to be linked to in any way, shape or form, it's someone whom the feds refer to in an indictment as "Individual B."

That's not someone a governor wants to be associated with.

But Gov. Jim Doyle finds himself in the company of just that sort of guy this week.
Apparently, the association doesn't bother our governor.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Logic says Rod will be indicted

Hidden among all the coverage today of the Rezko indictment was this nugget from the Beachwood Reporter, a website run by former reporter Steve Rhodes.

Will Blagojevich be implicated? Three sources in a position to know have confirmed to me that at least one figure cooperating with authorities has told investigators that the governor personally offered political favors in exchange for campaign contributions. That doesn't make it true, but it likely makes the governor a target.
When George Ryan's administration was being squeezed by the feds, even though George's political death was easy to see, his prospect for future indictment was very cloudy for a long time. It's a much clearer picture for Rod. I would say the odds are at least 90 percent that he ultimately will be indicted.

The reason? Fundraising.

Rod has raised more than $50 million since he became a candidate for governor in 2001. Nobody in Illinois history has even come close to that kind of fundraising pace. Until the feds showed up in force in late 2004, Rod's operation essentially was 95 percent focused on fundraising and 5 percent on governing.

Under the direction of Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, the operation "gathered" as many insider/fundraiser types it could (Bill Cellini, Peter Fox, Myron Cherry, Nick Hurtgen, Al Ronan, Stuart Levine, etc.) and systematically pushed everywhere for money. The mountain of newspaper stories and state and federal corruption investigation show they pushed too hard, especially in 2003 and early 2004.

Stuart Levine's demise brought the whole operation to a crashing halt, but it wasn't his operation. Even without Stuart Levine in the picture, it was headed for destruction.

But Stuart Levine is quickening that destruction. The feds have taped 1,600 of his phone calls. He had numerous conversations with Rezko and contacts with Kelly. There are signed documents at the pension board and elsewhere as evidence of the frauds. Tape and documents are a powerful combination. Therefore, a whole lot of people will talk to the feds. Many already have.

That brings us to Rod. The Joe Cari plea agreement already spells out the outlines of the government's view of Rod's fundraising operation. It was operated by Kelly and Rezko on behalf of Rod Blagojevich.

Levine said that a high ranking Illinois public official ("Public Official A"), acting through two close associates, was selecting consultants for the private equity funds that appeared before the State Pension Funds. Levine said that this was part of a fundraising strategy. Levine said that Public Official A, and his associates, were going to pick law firms, investment banking firms, and consultants that would help Public Official A.

Well, talk to Blagojevich insiders and it is clear that if Rod wasn't talking to Kelly in 2003 and 2004, he was talking to Rezko. One of them was constantly at his side or on the phone with him. Fundraising was the game, remember, 95 percent of the time.
It is not within the realm of possibility that Rod was unaware of the largest fundraising operation in Illinois history being operated by the two guys he was in constant contact with.

Rezko is already indicted and Kelly looks like he might be next. With the overwhelming evidence the feds appear to have, it is almost a certainty that one or both of Blagojevich's two top deputies will eventually cooperate. And cooperate can mean only one thing -- telling the feds that Rod knew what was happening.

All the above discussion does not even touch on the $1,500 check matter, the hiring investigation and other investigations -- all of which hold peril for Rod legally. In the end, it won't matter. The fundraising is what will bring Rod down.

We'll know a lot more about the government's case in a couple of weeks when the Levine plea agreements are made public. Expect them to expand upon the Cari plea and make the government's interest in the fundraising operation even clearer.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What about Chris Kelly?

One half of Governor Blagojevich's twin towers of fundraising was indicted today and the governor feigned surprise that one of his closest confidants "betrayed him." What reporters didn't ask Rod was whether he still has confidence in the other fundraiser, Chris Kelly.

"Chris and Tony ... receive no benefit whatsoever from any kind of state work or state business," Blagojevich said. "These guys are both, in my personal experience with them, both honest people, good people."
--AP, March 5, 2006
"I have on my side the most powerful ally that exists, and that is the truth. And the truth is that we do things legally, we do things ethically, and we do things right," the governor said. "And those circumstances described in that plea agreement do not describe how we operate. And obviously -- and let me assert this as fully as I possibly can -- none of that ever happened in terms of my involvement. I never instructed anybody to do any of those things. I don't believe anybody close to me did those things."
--Mark Brown column, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 18, 2005
Blagojevich also defended his two closest fundraisers, businessmen Christopher G. Kelly and Antoin "Tony" Rezko. He insisted that the two continued to enjoy his confidence and that he does not believe they are the associates referred to in the plea agreement.

"I have confidence that they do things right," he said. "They don't break the law or make any promises or deals or quid pro quos. Those are obvious and I don't think it takes a brain surgeon to figure out you shouldn't do those things."
--Chicago Tribune, September 17, 2005
Other requirements were that if fund-raisers Rezko and Kelly were going to play a significant part in his government, that they not do business with the state. And lastly, that "they follow every legal requirement."
--Daily Herald, Sept. 17, 2005
Blagojevich said he stood by Rezko and Kelly and had no plans to ask them about allegations in the TRS case.
"I'm confident that they do things right, and there's no need to even address this kind of speculation," the governor said.
--Copley, Sept. 17,2005
What about it governor -- does Chris Kelly still have your confidence?

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AP rolls over on guns

As a former reporter, I can tell you that nearly every journalist I used to work with is strongly in favor of every gun control law imaginable, whether it would be effective or not.

Rich Miller already noted that Eric Krol of the Daily Herald asked a rare tough question of a Democratic politician attacking a Republican on gun control.

Today, AP should have shown similar toughness when giving Rod Blagojevich a free ride on one of his talking points during this campaign -- his position in favor of a ban on assault weapons. His attack on Judy Baar Topinka on this issue hardly is news compared to revelations at the Tribune editorial board that a sitting governor refuses to reveal whether he is using the services of a criminal defense attorney. Yet AP played assault weapons higher in the story.

It's not particularly newsworthy because the Democrats control every lever of power in Illinois. If AP is going to do Rod's bidding on this issue, it ought to have the journalistic toughness to ask Rod why, with a Democratic Governor and Democratic General Assembly, he couldn't successfully pass an assault weapon ban in Springfield the last three years?

He's either an ineffective leader or he really doesn't care about the issue except as a phony political weapon. He can only get away with those realities if reporters continue to let him off the hook.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rod won't say if he's lawyered up

Rod Blagojevich decided to show up for the Chicago Tribune editorial board this morning and according to several people who were there refused to shed any new light on the $1,500 check saga, despite repeated questions.

He also, despite repeated proddings from the Tribune for a simple yes or no answer, refused to answer whether he has retained a personal criminal defense attorney to defend against all the corruption investigations in his administration.

So, Illinois, we have a governor who will not tell us whether he's hired a defense lawyer.

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Monday, October 9, 2006

Will Rod duck the Tribune?

Amazingly, there's still a question whether the sitting governor will show up tomorrow before the editorial board of the state's largest newspaper.

Rod Blagojevich seemed to be testing out arguments today he would use if he decides at the last minute to duck the appearance.

Blagojevich on Monday jokingly referred to the Tribune editorial board's endorsement session as appearing before "the Republican National Committee." The Tribune has historically endorsed GOP candidates for president, but has endorsed candidates of both parties for other offices.
Why would Rod duck the joint appearance with Judy Baar Topinka? The main reason is this. He can't duck and dodge questions about the $1,500 check in front of the newspaper that broke the story. He'll have to explain why he laundered the money using his seven-year-old daughter.

He'll also have to explain to the Tribune editorial board why he used the Tribune to launder a lie in his TV commercial.

Here's what he did:

1. Made up a lie about Judy Baar Topinka (about health care).

2. Found an article in Chicago Tribune that quoted his lie.

3. Attributed lie to Tribune in the ad.
The paper already noticed the stunt.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich defended a new TV ad that attacks his Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, using an out-of-context reference to an August Chicago Tribune article.

In the ad, a narrator says Topinka "has pledged to dismantle Illinois' health care program for kids" while nearly identical wording appears on the TV screen, giving the source of the allegation as a Tribune article.

The ad does not mention that the story reflected a criticism of Topinka leveled by the governor's budget director, John Filan. Topinka has said she wants to continue Blagojevich's All Kids state-subsidized children's health-insurance program but place a $100,000 income limit on families who qualify.
I have a feeling Rod is going to call in sick tomorrow.

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Sunday, October 8, 2006

How about a no New York series?

In early April, I picked Oakland, Cleveland, St. Louis and New York as the teams to make it to baseball's final four. I picked Oakland and St. Louis to advance to the series with St. Louis as the winner.

It might seem far-fetched, but STL already has beat the odds -- 18 of 19 ESPN "experts" picked San Diego to beat STL just a week ago. This evening, the Cards dispatched the Padres in four games.

Watch for Chris Duncan to hit four home runs against the Mets in the LCS.

Despite my April prediction, I'd like to see a rematch of the 1968 World Series, Tigers and Cardinals.

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Friday, October 6, 2006

Senator Slime

Our very own partisan hack Senator, Dick Durbin, is one of the country's most reliable cheap shot artists. Here's the latest from Senator Slime:

"The fact of the matter is at the highest levels of the leadership in the House of Representatives they have known for months that something awful was happening," Durbin said. "What they did was to try to contain it or cover it up. They tried to protect themselves instead of trying to protect these pages, and now is the day of reckoning."
Instead of a measured response, recognizing that not all the facts are known, Durbin let it fly. He's trying to help uber liberal Nancy Pelosi at the expense of a good person, John Shimkus. Someone should ask Durbin if he's ever once taken a courageous stand against his own party.

The answer is no. Illinois might as well have Nancy Pelosi has its senior senator.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Governor Tax-brakojevich

While I'm on special assignment today, the discussion rages over at Eric Zorn's blog over whether the governor's 1 percent assessment increase was a matter of cold, calculated computer crunching or is a closer cousin to that infamous "birthday gift, christening gift or whatever."

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Rod the envy of neighborhoods

Here's how Rod's 1 percent property assessment increase compares to the median assessments in:

Chicago -- 41 percent.

Rogers Park -- 41 percent.

Lake View -- 38 percent.

SouthWest side -- 46 percent.

Part of West Beverly -- 76 percent.

Part of Englewood -- 90 percent.

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Monday, October 2, 2006

What would the neighbors think?


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Try again, Mr. Assessor

Now that Eric Krol of the Daily Herald has unveiled the brazeness of Rod Blagojevich's 1% assessment increase, the Cook County Assessor has weighed in with a response. A very weak one.
A spokesman for the county assessor's office said Monday that while the governor's percentage increase may be low, Blagojevich still has the second highest assessed home of the 103 properties in his neighborhood in the same classification as his based on square footage.
What the assessor is not telling you is that of those 103 properties, Rod's house is the second largest. Therefore, of course his total assessment is one of the highest. The assessment category is 2-04, which includes one-story houses of any age 1,801 square feet or greater. Rod's house is 3,817 square feet. Nearly all the houses in that category are considerably smaller than Rod's.

What the assessor isn't telling reporters is that on a per square footage basis, Rod's assessment is way below his neighbors.
Rod's assessment per square foot (house) -- $15.03
Rod's neighbors' assessment (2-04 class) per square foot -- $18.70
Rod's neighbors' assessment per square foot on properties valued $400,000 and more -- $23.19
How is Rod going to explain this 1(%)? So far, not so well.

"He pays his taxes every year and has never appealed his assessment," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Sunday.
Who would appeal when the assessor essentially freezes your taxes for three years?

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Sunday, October 1, 2006

Governor 1%


Why did Rod Blagojevich's property tax assessment increase only 1 percent when those on his block and extended neighborhood went up more than 30 percent on average. Kristen McQueary of the Daily Southtown scratched the surface on this issue today. The questions begin this week.

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