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Guilt and Associations

McCain once again tries to tar Obama with the controversies of others.


A McCain-Palin ad says that Obama was "born of the corrupt Chicago political machine" and implies that the candidate himself is corrupt by association with four local political figures. But the ad’s implication and many of its supporting details are false. In fact, this is a particularly egregious example of ricochet sliming:

  • William Daley, the first figure mentioned in the ad, is indeed related to the other famous Chicago Daleys, but he’s never been accused of any wrongdoing. And the former commerce secretary isn’t Obama’s only economic adviser, as the ad implies.
  • Emil Jones, Illinois state Senate leader, may indeed have been Obama’s "political godfather." But he, too, hasn’t been charged with or even seriously accused of misdeeds despite the ad’s claim of an "ethical cloud."
  • Obama did have a past relationship with real estate developer Tony Rezko, but he is no longer Obama’s "money man." Obama hasn’t been associated with him since his indictment for wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and attempted extortion, and Obama donated all of the disgraced businessman’s previous campaign contributions to charity.
  • Rod Blagojevich has been touched by plenty of scandal but his relationship with Obama doesn’t extend much beyond being "his governor." In fact, Obama has worked on ethics legislation triggered by some of the Blagojevich’s questionable moves.

Most important, the ad offers no evidence of wrongdoing by Obama himself in connection with any of these relationships, however close or distant.


The McCain-Palin campaign’s new ad, "Chicago Machine," tries to tie Barack Obama to four Illinois powerbrokers. The campaign says it will air nationally. We’ll take a look at the merits of each individual’s "corrupt" status as well as their connection to Obama in turn.

[TET ]

McCain-Palin 2008: "Chicago Machine"

Announcer: Barack Obama.
Born of the corrupt Chicago political machine.

Barack Obama: In terms of my toughness, look first of all, I come from Chicago. Announcer: His economic adviser, William Daley. Lobbyist. Mayor’s brother. His money man, Tony Rezko. Client. Patron. Convicted Felon. His "political godfather." Emil Jones. Under ethical cloud. His governor, Rod Blagojevich. A legacy of federal and state investigations. With friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead.

John McCain: I’m John McCain and I approve this message.[/TET]

Daley and Nightly

The ad begins with a statement that Obama was "born of the corrupt Chicago political machine," then shows Obama saying that Chicago toughened him up. The announcer returns, saying, "His economic adviser: William Daley. Lobbyist. Mayor’s brother."

First off, Obama wasn’t born in Chicago and didn’t grow up there. He didn’t arrive in the city until 1985, after he finished college. As a community organizer, he often fought City Hall. His rise in politics there wasn’t a product of grooming by the Chicago machine, though he made allies of some machine politicans along the way.

Second, William Daley isn’t "his economic adviser." He may be one of his advisers in that area, but look at some of the others: Former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, former National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling, former chairpersons of the Council of Economic Advisers Laura Tyson and Joseph Stiglitz, former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett.

Not that Daley is without qualifications himself. He’s a former secretary of commerce. But the ad’s likely intent here is to remind viewers of the mayoral administration of Daley’s father, Richard J., which, though the elder Daley himself was never indicted, was riddled with corruption and patronage politics. The Boss died in office in 1976, almost a decade before Obama arrived in Chicago.

William Daley’s brother, Richard M., is the current mayor of Chicago. He hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, though some members of his administration have been.

But William Daley, the Daley mentioned in this ad, has had no such scandal or corruption allegations leveled against him. The implication to the contrary is false.

Rezko Redux

The ad lists convicted Illinois businessman Tony Rezko as Obama’s "money man," "client" and "patron." Rezko was convicted on 16 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud in June. But Obama has not been seen with Rezko for some time, and he donated the former businessman’s $11,500 in campaign contributions to charity in 2007.

As we concluded back in December 2007, "Obama has a relationship with Rezko that dates back many years, but there’s no indication Obama did anything improper."

The Godfather

The ad then turns to Obama’s "political godfather" Emil Jones, who the ad says is "under ethical cloud." Jones certainly has been a close confidant of Obama and has used the "godfather" verbiage himself– though the relationship wasn’t always so cozy. Obama described him as an "old ward heeler" in his memoir.

But the ethics charge could use a bit more explanation.

The words "under an ethical cloud" do appear in a June 16 Associated Press story about Jones. The full quote is:

AP: Another Obama mentor, state Senate President Emil Jones, serves under an ethical cloud. He has several family members on the state payroll and uses his clout to aid their business interests.

Another AP report said: "Jones has relatives on the state payroll, steers state grants to favorite organizations and uses his clout to punish enemies and bury GOP legislation." But there have been no indictments, investigations or serious inquiries into any improper behavior by Jones.

O Governor, My Governor

Finally, the ad turns to "his governor, Rod Blagojevich" and his "legacy of state and federal investigations." His governor? Ooooh. (Cue scary organ music.)

The Democratic governor certainly has been besieged by investigations, controversy and other charges of impropriety. But his connections to Obama are not substantial. Obama is just one of more than 13 million Illinois residents of whom it could also be said that Blagojevich is "their governor."

In a July 2008 New Yorker article, Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel did tell a reporter that "he and Obama ‘participated in a small group that met weekly when Rod [Blagojevich] was running for governor.’ " But there hasn’t been evidence of much contact since then. In fact, the ethics bill that Obama spearheaded while in the Ilinois Legislature was a response to some of Blagojevich’s transgressions. And the Chicago Tribune reported that:

Chicago Tribune (Sept. 19): The embattled Illinois governor was shunned by the Obama camp at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last month while several potential opponents to a possible Blagojevich third-term bid were showcased with floor speeches.

Hardly favorable actions from Obama toward "his governor." And no less an authority than Karl Rove said on Fox News’ "Hannity and Colmes" yesterday, "Blagojevich only has the most tenuous ties to Obama."

–- by Viveca Novak and Justin Bank


"Obama donates Rezko Contribution," Associated Press. 1 June 2007.

Scott, Janny, "In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd," New York Times. 30 July 2007.

Mitch, Robert and Pearson, Rick, "Blagojevich warns Obama of GOP trap," Chicago Tribune. 19 Sept 2008.