Sunday, June 08, 2008

Idiot Baseless Charges

This week, Chicago financier Tony Rezko was convicted in federal court on 16 of 24 charges of influence-peddling -- accepting kickbacks from those companies awarded state contracts during the administration of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich himself has spent much of the past year denying charges of corruption, and has watched his approval rating plunge to Bushian depths.

On this morning's ABC's "This Week," Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) charged that Rezko helped finance Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's house in Chicago. The only problem with this strategy of guilt by association is that it is untrue.

According to a number of Chicago press accounts, a few months after Obama became a U.S. senator, and flush with an advance that he received as an advance for his book, The Audacity of Hope, Barack and Michelle Obama bought a home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood for $1.65 million. At the same time, Tony Rezko's wife, Rita, bought an adjacent lot. Both properties were owned by a doctor who wanted to sell both properties at the same time. According to the real estate agent who handled both transactions, the Rezkos, who lived across the street, had been eying the lot for some time.

Six months later, the Obamas purchased a 10-foot strip of the adjacent lot from the Rezkos to expand their yard. At the time of the purchase, Rezko was under investigation for corruption, but had not yet been indicted. Still, Barack Obama has acknowledged that the purchase of the property from the Rezkos, while perfectly legal and above board, was "boneheaded" because it could have been perceived that the Rezkos were doing the Obamas a favor while Tony Rezko was under investigation.

Now, I am not an expert in real estate law or real estate financing, but how did Rezko help "finance" the Obamas' purchase of their home? True, the Obamas did purchase the home for $300,000 less than the asking price (the purchase price was $1.65 million), while the Rezkos paid the full price for the lot ($625,000). But, again, according to the real estate agent, there were no competing offers for the house, while there were competing offers for the lot. Again, I'm no expert, but what's the problem here?

If baseless charges, such as the one Senator Graham made this morning, are going to be typical of the upcoming presidential campaign, we're all going to need a long shower to wash off the campaign mud by November.


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