A $100,000 state grant for a botanic garden in Englewood that then-state Sen. Barack Obama awarded in 2001 to a group headed by a onetime campaign volunteer is now under investigation by the Illinois attorney general amid new questions, prompted by Chicago Sun-Times reports, about whether the money might have been misspent.
The garden was never built. And now state records obtained by the Sun-Times show $65,000 of the grant money went to the wife of Kenny B. Smith, the Obama 2000 congressional campaign volunteer who heads the Chicago Better Housing Association, which was in charge of the project for the blighted South Side neighborhood.
Smith wrote another $20,000 in grant-related checks to K.D. Contractors, a construction company that his wife, Karen D. Smith, created five months after work on the garden was supposed to have begun, records show. K.D. is no longer in business.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan -- a Democrat who is supporting Obama's presidential bid -- is investigating "whether this charitable organization properly used its charitable assets, including the state funds it received," Cara Smith, Madigan's deputy chief of staff, said Wednesday.
In addition to the 2001 grant that Obama directed to the housing association as a "member initiative," the not-for-profit group got a separate $20,000 state grant in 2006.
Madigan's office has notified Obama's presidential campaign of the probe, which was launched this week. But Obama's actions in awarding the money are not a focus of the investigation, Smith said.
Those who will no doubt dismiss this investigation as trivial should understand that this is not an isolated incident. As a state senator, Obama used his influence to steer tens of millions in government housing grants and loans to Rezmar, a company owned by one of his closest friends and political supporters, Tony Rezko, who is now sitting in jail on multiple felony convictions for corrupt influence peddling in Illinois state government. Many of those housing projects were located in Obama's senate district and fell into a state of utter disarray. We also know that shortly after Obama's failed congressional bid he found himself in serious financial trouble. A campaign supporter hired Obama as general counsel for his company and paid him close to $112,000. Obama never disclosed this relationship on his financial disclosure statement he filed as a state senator. Obama used his state senate letterhead to write letters of support and had a legislative assistant in his office help obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants for the business. After Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, his wife was promoted to some vice president of diversity and community outreach job at the University of Chicago hospital, making over $300,000 a year. Obama in turn used his Senate position to obtain more than a $1 million in federal earmarks for the hospital. When Obama's financial picture improved dramatically, he obtained the assistance of Tony Rezko in purchasing his million-dollar South Side mansion, allowing Obama to save $300,000 on the purchase price of the home after Rezko purchased the adjoining lot as part of the house deal, improved it with a new privacy fence and then sold part of the lot back to Obama, enhancing the value of Obama's home. Rezko also helped Obama obtain a discounted mortgage on the home from a bank with which he had close personal ties.
If U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wants to do it, he will have no problem obtaining indictments against Obama for corrupt political influence. With Rezko sitting in jail awaiting sentencing on what could be a long term in prison, his only hope is for Obama to become president of the U.S. Obama can then at least commute his sentence and effectively shutdown Fitzgerald's investigation of political corruption in Chicago. Obama has already pledged he will not fire Fitzgerald if he becomes president, a commitment he made while facing tough questioning from the Sun-Times editorial board about his ties to Rezko. I simply ask people to take a look at Obama's record in Illinois. There is none of the change he's been promising the American people. Obama has never challenged the status quo in Illinois. He's always been a go along to get along guy, who occasionally dips his own cup into the well for a piece of the action. This is not a time to put a corrupt Chicago politician into the White House. We need a real leader with the backbone to stand up to the special interests. Barack Obama is not that man by a long shot.