Jan. 25, 2008— -- Months after reporters started asking Sen. Barack Obama to account for contributions raised by longtime friend and donor Antoin "Tony" Rezko, questions remain about the full extent of the accused Illinois political fixer's role as a patron of Obama's political career.
"We have returned any money that we know was associated to Mr. Rezko," Obama told Diane Sawyer on Wednesday morning during an appearance on "Good Morning America." "That is something that if there's additional information we don't know about, we'd be happy to return the money."
The Obama campaign says it has given away more than $85,000 in Rezko-linked contributions since Rezko was indicted on federal fraud and extortion charges in the fall of 2006.
An ABCNews.com review, however, has identified an additional $100,000 in contributions made to Obama from Rezko's associates that have not been returned, including $19,500 in contributions from Rezko's wife and employees of Rezko's business enterprises. The ABCNews.com review includes individuals who have been linked to Rezko in news reports, court documents and public records.
Other news organizations have reviewed Obama's campaign finance records and have also found Rezko-linked contributions that are more than double what the campaign has publicly acknowledged. The Chicago Sun-Times, which published its review last June, found that "Obama has collected at least $168,308 from Rezko and his circle," and earlier this week the Los Angeles Times reported that it had found that Rezko and his associates had given "Obama more than $200,000 in donations since 1995."
When asked to respond to the findings, campaign spokesman Bill Burton replied, "We think they are casting a wide net and overestimating."
But the campaign does acknowledge that it does not have an exact record of money raised by Rezko. Its best estimate of what Rezko has raised is $60,000, including contributions from a fundraiser Rezko held for Obama in 2003. "We don't have an exact record of the money raised at the event, but we have given to charity all contributions that seemed appropriate to return," said Burton. "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."
The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Saturday that Obama was the unnamed "political candidate" referred to in a court filing in the Rezko case last month. The court document accuses Rezko of funneling money from a kickback scheme to Obama's 2004 Senate campaign through an associate. Obama is not accused of any wrongdoing in the document, according to the Sun-Times.
Obama has known Rezko for more than 15 years. Much of the scrutiny surrounding their relationship 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 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 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."
Obama is not the only presidential candidate who has had to face questions surrounding contributions linked to a fundraiser. Sen. Hillary Clinton returned more than $850,000 in cash linked to her fundraiser Norman Hsu, after it was revealed that Hsu was a wanted fugitive.