Feb. 20, 2008— -- Watchdog groups are questioning why it took Sen. Barack Obama more than a year to disclose additional details of his dealings with indicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko.
While Rezko was known to be under federal investigation, Obama toured a Chicago-area home with him to get his opinion of the property, Obama's campaign revealed to Bloomberg News for a story published Monday. The politician later bought the home, with Rezko's help, who bought the adjoining lot in what was effectively a package deal.
Until then, Obama has professed trouble recalling such details during interviews with reporters.
Responding to questions about Rezko and the home sale last month, the Obama campaign repeatedly cited the candidate's on-the-record statements: "I don't recall exactly" conversations about the house with Rezko; "I am not clear" how Rezko decided to join in the purchase; and "I may have mentioned to him the name of a [developer] and he may at that point have contacted that person."
Pressed for more details, the campaign declined to provide any that were not then part of the public record.
The junior senator from Illinois has been answering questions on Rezko's involvement in the house purchase since news of it broke in 2006. In the 2005 deal, Obama purchased a house for $300,000 less than its owners were asking, and Rezko simultaneously bought the adjacent lot from the same seller at full price. Obama denies there was anything unusual about the price disparity. He says the price on the house was dropped because it had been on the market for some time but that the price for the adjacent land remained high because there was another offer.
Obama called it "bone-headed" to have engaged in financial dealings with the wealthy Chicago political operative, particularly as federal agents were reported to have been investigating Rezko for alleged corruption. He has also said he was "confident that everything was handled ethically and above board."
The new revelations appear to indicate Obama had involved Rezko at an earlier stage of his home buying process than was previously known, and left many wondering why he had not shared the information sooner.
"Why did they wait so long to disclose this?" asked Jay Stewart of the Illinois-based Better Government Association, which combats corruption, waste and fraud in government.
"If you run as an agent of change, a reformer...that's holding yourself to a pretty high standard," said Stewart. "But when you're laying out that kind of rhetoric...it makes sense for people to say, 'Let's look at what you've done. Let's see if your rhetoric matches with reality.'"
"Where is Sen. Obama getting his media advice?" wondered Cindy Canary, executive director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
"Is Obama following his instincts or the advice of a high-paid consultant?" she asked. "If it's a high-paid consulatant, maybe he should follow his own instincts... This is something that Sen. Obama should have put forward from the get-go."
Asked if there was a reason the campaign was mum on the Rezko home tour for more than a year after news of his involvement in Obama's home purchase broke, spokesman Bill Burton said, "No."