The Republican Party has set its sights early in the general election on Sen. Barack Obama’s ties to Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, who was convicted Wednesday of mail and wire fraud, improper solicitation and money laundering.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has released a flurry of statements, videos and questions to draw attention to Mr. Obama’s relationship with Rezko, who was one of the earliest supporters and fundraisers behind Mr. Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign.
Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is “lacking the experience to be commander in chief [and] lacking the judgment to be president,” says a Web video highlighting the Obama-Rezko ties that the RNC released Wednesday - the day Rezko was found guilty of 16 of 24 federal corruption counts.
The Syrian-born immigrant who made a fortune in real estate deals and fast-food franchises faces life imprisonment.
The RNC is pushing the issue much harder than the campaign of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, and says Mr. Obama has not answered numerous questions about his dealings with Rezko, 52.
“This is further proof that Obama’s high-flying rhetoric is just that and in no way represents the kind of change our nation demands,” said RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.
The Obama campaign has so far chosen to ignore, for the most part, the RNC’s attacks since the Rezko conviction. A campaign spokesman did say that Mr. Obama, if elected, would not pardon Rezko or commute his sentence.
Mr. Obama of Illinois has previously denied knowledge of Rezko’s corrupt business and political dealings and said in a statement Wednesday that he was “saddened” by the verdict.
“This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform,” Mr. Obama said. “I encourage the General Assembly to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent these kinds of abuses in the future.”
But on Thursday, the Obama campaign focused on lobbyist influence in Washington, an issues on which it sees Mr. McCain as weak.
Mr. Obama announced in Bristol, Va., that the Democratic National Committee will no longer accept donations from lobbyists or special interest groups, which has long been a policy of the Obama campaign.
“They do not fund my campaign. They will not fund our party,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. McCain has been criticized for having a large number of lobbyists in his employ, including some who have resigned when their work on behalf of foreign governments was revealed by The Washington Times and other media outlets.
But now that Mr. Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, he will no doubt face a new round of questions about his ties to Rezko, who was found guilty of receiving kickbacks from businesses that he helped get business deals with the state.
Mr. Obama knew Rezko for about 20 years, and he and his wife Michelle Obama socialized with Rezko and his wife Rita Rezko, including at least one visit to the Rezko vacation home. Questions also surround Rezko’s role in helping Mr. Obama buy a $1.65 million home in 2005.
Mr. Obama has said that Rezko raised around $250,000 for him in campaign funds, and has donated $159,085 to charity. An Obama aide said that $250,000 was the senator’s estimate of what Rezko could have possibly raised throughout his career, but not a basis on which individual contributions could be made to charity.