Presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday that he got more political money from indicted Chicago businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko than he has previously acknowledged.
Rezko helped raise up to $250,000 for his various political races, Obama’s campaign said. The campaign had previously put the figure at $150,000 but now says that amount was only for his 2004 Senate race.
And in interviews with two Chicago newspapers, the Democrat again said it was a mistake to involve Rezko in his purchase of a new home — not just because Rezko was under federal investigation but because he was a contributor and political activist.
Still, Obama said he did nothing unethical.
“He never once asked me for any favors, or ever did any favors for me,” the Illinois senator said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “He never gave me any gifts or gave me any indication he was setting me up to ask for any favors in the future.”
Obama met Friday with the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times in an effort to resolve nagging questions about his relationship with Rezko, a Chicago businessman and major fundraiser in Illinois politics.
Rezko is on trial on charges including mail fraud and attempted extortion. Federal prosecutors say he tried to use his connections to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to demand kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with state government.
Obama is not accused of any wrongdoing.
But his long friendship with Rezko has hampered his efforts to campaign as a new-style politician who abhors backroom deals and insider favors.
Rezko has not contributed to Obama’s presidential campaign, but he did raise money for Obama’s bids for other offices.
His staff said Friday evening that Rezko raised about $160,000 for Obama’s successful run for U.S. Senate in 2004 and $60,000 to $90,000 for his state Senate campaigns and a failed bid for Congress in 2000.
Previously, his presidential campaign said Rezko was connected to about $150,000, all of which was later donated to charity.
“We reviewed our records for any contributions we believe could reasonably be credited to Mr. Rezko’s political support and that is the generous estimate we concluded upon,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail.
Rezko advised Obama on buying a new Chicago home in 2005 and his wife bought a vacant lot next to the Obamas’ house. Rezko’s wife, Rita, later sold part of the lot to Obama so they would have a bigger side yard.
Obama said he got no price break on his new house because Rezko was buying the lot next door from the same sellers. And he said it was Rezko’s idea, not his, to buy the lot.
“He said, ‘Well, I might be interested in purchasing the lot.’ And my response was, ‘That would be fine,'” Obama said. “This is an area where I can see sort of a lapse in judgment, where I could have said ‘No, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.'”