Despite claims over the weekend from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama that his campaign had given away all the donations connected to accused fixer Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the campaign has not returned more than $100,000 in donations from Rezko's wife and 20 other Rezko-linked donors, according to an ABCNews.com review.
"What we've done is we've traced any funds that we know of that we think were connected to him," said Obama during an appearance on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. "And if there any other funds that were connected to him that we're not aware of, then we will certainly return them. It is in our interest to do so."
On Friday, campaign spokesman Bill Burton dismissed the ABC News findings and others from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Sun-Times, stating "we think they are casting a wide net and overestimating."
The campaign has donated to charity more than $85,000 of Rezko-linked contributions since Rezko was indicted on federal fraud charges in the fall of 2006. Burton said the campaign's best estimate of what Rezko has raised is $60,000, including contributions from a fundraiser Rezko held for Obama in 2003, but acknowledges that it does not have an exact record of what Rezko raised. "We review our donations, and where there are questions, we make decisions about donating to charity those which, in the circumstances, do not seem appropriate to retain," said Burton.
The Obama campaign statements have left some campaign finance watchdogs perplexed. "I don't understand why they didn't do a top-to-bottom audit and divest themselves of these funds," said Cynthia Canary of the Illionois Campaign for Political Reform.
The revelation that Rezko may have used "straw donors" to funnel tainted money to Obama's 2004 Senate campaign has further cast a cloud of suspicion over the Rezko-linked contributions. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Jan. 20 that Obama was the unnamed "political candidate " referred to in a court document in the Rezko case last month accusing Rezko of directing two associates to contribute to Obama's campaign, and reimbursing them with money from an kickback scheme.
Much of the scrutiny surrounding Obama's relationship with Rezko has centered around a real estate deal involving Obama's home on the South Side of Chicago. Obama says he approached Rezko for "advice" as he sought to purchase the house in 2005. The owner of the house was trying to sell the a neighboring vacant lot as a part of the deal, Obama later told the Chicago Tribune he could not afford to buy the lot because "it was already a stretch to buy the house."
Rezko's wife, Rita, purchased the vacant lot and later sold a part of it to Obama to expand his yard. Obama has since called his decision to involve Rezko in the deal "a bone-headed mistake."