Washington pundits are excited for a potential battle for the Democratic nomination for president between the “fresh-faced” freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, and the consummate political insider, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. However, new revelations about a corruption scandal involving Obama suggest he may have more in common with Hillary than he would like to admit.
As you may recall, in November, press reports surfaced regarding a questionable land deal between Obama and Antoin “Tony” Rezko, an indicted political fundraiser. The long and the short of it is that Obama approached Rezko with the idea to simultaneously purchase adjoining lots in Southside Chicago. Rezko obliged. Obama obtained his lot for a reduced price. Rezko later sold a portion of his property to Obama. All of this took place while Rezko was the subject of a federal corruption investigation.
Political handicappers have begun to assess what these revelations might mean to Obama’s presidential aspirations, but personally, I’m not interested in the political fallout. The salient question ought to be what do Obama’s dealings with Rezko tell us, if anything, about the Obama’s ethics.
First, Obama’s dealings with Rezko reveal a politician oblivious to the expectations of at least the appearance of integrity for those in public office. At the time Obama entered into his dubious land deal, it was widely known that Rezko was the subject of a federal investigation for allegedly trying to collect nearly $6 million in kickbacks from government deals. Obama and Rezko have been “friends” since 1990. Obama knew about Rezko’s shady reputation and ought to have avoided the appearance of impropriety.
Second, Obama’s dealings with Rezko suggest, at least, that Obama might be the kind of politician willing to peddle his influence. The Chicago Tribune reported that Obama purchased his land for $300,000 less than the asking price, while Rezko’s wife paid full price for the adjoining lot from the same owner. Did Mrs. Rezko partially subsidize the purchase of Obama’s new home? And what of the subsequent sale of a section of the Rezko property to Obama shortly thereafter?
Press reports suggest Rezko has raised as much as $60,000 in campaign contributions for Obama. What has he received in return for his generosity? (Such relationships are never one-sided.) New revelations surfaced this week indicating that Rezko was successful in persuading Obama to award a coveted internship with his Senate office to a Rezko business associate. (Incidentally, the business associate, John Armanda, has donated $11,500 to Obama’s campaigns.) Is there more to this story?
Third, Obama’s dealings with Rezko suggest that Obama may be willing to cast aside his professed sense of ethics for personal financial gain. Obama, through his dealings with an indicted political fundraiser, was able to purchase his luxurious home at a cut-rate price and expand his property. Obama acknowledged the deal was a mistake, but only after the media made hay of it.
In 1992, the Clintons came into the White House despite evidence of their shady real estate dealings in Arkansas, a scandal known as “Whitewater,” setting the tone for what would be the most corrupt presidency in our nation’s history. Is this Rezko land deal Barack Obama’s Whitewater? Let’s find out sooner than later.
Will Proposed Ethics Reforms Make a Difference?
As the 109th Congress begins, Democrats at least appear to be making an attempt to institute ethics reform in the House of Representatives. A new package of rules unveiled by the Democrats yesterday target financed travel, gifts and earmarks (special interest funding “hidden” in other legislation). It was passed by a vote of 430 to 1. Overall, the rule changes seem to be a step forward, but without any ethics enforcement to back them up, the new rules may mean nothing in the end.
The rules changes mean:
House members will no longer be allowed to travel on lobbyists’ or their clients’ dollars, and all travel financed by outside groups will be subject to pre-approval by the House Ethics Committee. Also, all travel on corporate jets will be set at market value cost.
Representatives will also be subject to a total gift ban, prohibiting them from accepting gifts from lobbyists. The previous ethics rules placed a $50 cap on all gifts, leaving lobbyists open to offering sports tickets and other gifts often purchased for less-than face value in order to evade the cap.
With respect to earmarks, committees would have to make the requests public and identify the requesting lawmaker under the new rules. Other legislative ethics changes include shorter voting windows, the inability to revise already-signed conference reports, and the inclusion of elected members into conference committee meetings.
That’s all well and good, but can we really trust members of Congress to enforce these new rules when they openly flouted the old ones without consequence?
Gary Condit, Cynthia McKinney, William Jefferson, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Jim McDermott, Patrick Kennedy and Alan Mollohan (a former co-chair of the Ethics Committee!) are examples of alleged wrongdoers who faced little-to-no ethics enforcement in the House despite evidently violating rules already on the books. Just last week, the House Ethics Committee let Michigan Rep. John Conyers off the hook even though he violated House rules by forcing his staff members to serve as his personal servants, valets, and as campaign staff while on the government payroll. And earlier this week, only two congressmen were fined for violating travel rules, despite the fact that dozens of members had flouted the rules. How much has changed in a few days?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to lead “the most ethical Congress in history,” which is eerily similar to Bill Clinton’s hollow pledge to run the “most ethical administration in the history of the Republic.” (We all know how that turned out.) Given the fact that Pelosi and company are at least half responsible for the breakdown of the ethics process in Washington, it’s going to take more than a few rule changes to convince me they’re serious about cleaning up corruption on Capitol Hill. The sheer number of seemingly corrupt members still in the House is staggering. Let’s hope that the Justice Department continues aggressive investigations and prosecution of corrupt members of Congress.
Chicago Police Sued Over ‘Sanctuary’ Policy
You can add Chicago, Illinois to the list of cities under investigation by Judicial Watch for undermining federal immigration laws. Just before Christmas, on December 22, Judicial Watch filed an open records lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department seeking information about the department’s so-called “sanctuary policy” for illegal aliens.
Specifically, we’re asking the court to force the Chicago Police Department to respond to Judicial Watch’s October 13 Illinois Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents regarding policies that govern the interactions between police officers and suspected or known illegals.
Judicial Watch recently learned about a resolution under consideration by the Cook County, Illinois Board of Commissioners that would declare Cook County an official “Sanctuary County” for illegal aliens. The resolution would, in effect, conform the Cook County Sheriff’s Office immigration policy to a Chicago Police Department policy that prevents county employees from assisting with immigration enforcement and/or reporting suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Judicial Watch launched an investigation to determine whether or not these policies and procedures are “consistent with the requirements of federal law.”
For those of you who have been following Judicial Watch’s lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department, this will all sound familiar to you. Judicial Watch is battling ACLU lawyers in a lawsuit against the LAPD over “Special Order 40,” a policy that prohibits police officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status, and reportedly restricts police officers from cooperating with federal immigration officials. In that particular lawsuit, Judicial Watch is asking the court to prohibit the LAPD from expending taxpayer funds to enforce and maintain Special Order 40.
In addition to Chicago and Los Angeles, Judicial Watch is also investigating the immigration policies of the Orange County, California Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Houston, Texas, and Westchester County, New York. (Judicial Watch is also challenging taxpayer-funded illegal alien day labor sites in Virginia and California.)
The illegal immigration crisis is bad enough without local governments further undermining the rule of law.