Obama’s Third Arm

“On July 11, the Obama operation created an additional new fund-raising arm that has been fund-raising below the radar, in a drive to collect and funnel money to Democratic parties in 18 key battleground states to register voters and turn out the vote for Barack Obama and down ticket Democratic contests,” Lynn Sweet reports today.

“The ‘Committee for Change’ just as ‘Obama for America’ and the ‘Obama Victory Fund’ – is part of the effort to elect Obama. By forming a third committee, the Obama campaign can go to donors who have given the maximum under federal contribution limits imposed on the first two committees but have not totally ‘maxed out’.”

This is all perfectly legal, but Sweet notes that it’s also part-and-parcel of the consistently secretive nature of the Obama campaign that flies in the face of its rhetoric.

“While the names of the donors giving to this Committee for Change of course are reported – $1.89 million raised according to a September filing – its fund-raising activities have been done out of sight. The Obama campaign has championed transparency, and ‘they should not shy away from telling the public what they are doing,’ said Chris Holman, the campaign finance lobbyist for Public Citizen.”

An Obama spokesman spouted absolutely nothing but nonsense in response to Sweet’s query.

But what really caught my attention was this:

“On Friday in Chicago, the featured speakers at a ‘Committee for Change’ fund-raiser are Joe Rospars, the Obama campaign new media director and Mike Slaby, the technology director for the campaign, with national headquarters on Michigan Avenue. A ticket goes for $500; with co-chairs having to raise or donate $25,000.

“One of the co-hosts: Robert Blackwell Jr., a longtime Obama friend, businessman and ping pong ‘Killerspin’ magnate. In April, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Blackwell was an $8,000-a-month Obama legal client (before election to the Senate) and that Obama later wrote a letter for Blackwell for a state grant.”

Here’s what the Los Angeles Times reported:

After an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2000, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama faced serious financial pressure: numerous debts, limited cash and a law practice he had neglected for a year. Help arrived in early 2001 from a significant new legal client – a longtime political supporter.

Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr. paid Obama an $8,000-a-month retainer to give legal advice to his growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange. It allowed Obama to supplement his $58,000 part-time state Senate salary for over a year with regular payments from Blackwell’s firm that eventually totaled $112,000.

You can guess where the story goes from there.

A few months after receiving his final payment from EKI, Obama sent a request on state Senate letterhead urging Illinois officials to provide a $50,000 tourism promotion grant to another Blackwell company, Killerspin.

The Obama campaign denies any connection, of course, as well as attributing only coincidence to the fact that a day after Obama wrote the request on Blackwell’s behalf his U.S. Senate campaign received $1,000 from Blackwell.

Blackwell eventually received $320,000 from the state.

Oh, and what was the money for? Ping-pong tournaments. Hence the name Killerspin.

*

The Times notes that former Obama aide Dan Shomon did the heavy lifting when it came to helping Blackwell. Which is all very cozy because Shomon is shown here as the press contact for EKI when Blackwell was named to Rod Blagojevich’s transition team after winning the 2002 gubernatorial race.

*

But that’s not all. The Washington Post took a look at the Blackwell-Obama connection in August and reported this:

Two years ago, the office of Michelle Obama, the vice president for community relations at the University of Chicago Medical Center, published a glossy report detailing the improvements her office had made in the lives of local residents, in part by increasing ties to minority contractors.

Center administrators declined to disclose which businesses benefited; the report lists one – Blackwell Consulting Services.

In 2005, the center expanded its bidding process and invited African American businessman Robert Blackwell Sr. to join a competition to upgrade the center’s intranet, the in-house equivalent of a Web site. His company, Blackwell Consulting, won contracts totaling nearly $650,000.

Blackwell and his family, records show, have been longtime donors to the political campaigns of Michelle Obama’s husband, Barack. Robert Blackwell Jr., a former partner in the firm, is a major fundraiser for Barack Obama. At various times, Blackwell Sr. says, his and his son’s businesses each have retained Barack Obama as an attorney.

More than extra arms, the Blackwells are just extra members of the family.

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