John Rogers may play into the ongoing investigation of Gov. Blagoyevich and President-elect Obama's ties to convicted political fixer Tony Rezko. Rogers founded a minority investment business, Ariel Capital. Federal prosecutors looking into the various pay-to-play schemes in the Blagoyevich administration may be looking at the role campaign contributions played in the investment portfolio Ariel was awarded by the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. Obama, as a state senator, lobbied the pension board overseeing investments to award more contracts to black-owned businesses and, specifically, Ariel. In turn, Rogers contributions tens of thousands of dollars to Obama and Blagoyevich. Investments with Ariel were later dropped after the federal investigation of pay-to-play in the Illinois state government became public. A Los Angeles Times article earlier this year reported on the overlapping Rezko-related contributions federal investigators uncovered between the campaigns of Blagoyevich and Obama, which included contributions from Rogers:
Using Federal Election Commission and Illinois state records, The Times' Dan Morain compared donors on the FBI spreadsheet to Obama’s contributors. Guess what.
Sen. Obama received $222,000 during the same 2001-2004 period from Rezko-related Blagojevich donors.
And Obama received at least another $32,000 from them for this presidential run -- although Rezko, indicted in 2006, has not been involved in Obama’s current campaign . . .
Another overlapping donor is John Rogers, head of Ariel Capital, a major Chicago-based investment firm. Rogers gave $12,500 to Blagojevich in 2004, the FBI spreadsheet shows. Rogers has also given Obama $25,000, state and FEC records reveal.
Aides to Obama and Rogers said the pair have a friendship that is separate from Rezko. Ariel Vice President Matt Yale said Rogers’ inclusion on the FBI spreadsheet was a surprise, adding, "To the best of our knowledge, we have not made any contributions to Governor Blagojevich or any political candidate on behalf of Tony Rezko." Ariel is not implicated in the criminal case.
As an Illinois state senator, Obama appeared before Illinois pension funds in 2000 and 2001 to urge that they provide more business to black-owned investment houses, including, as it happens, Ariel.
Describing his efforts to the Urban League last year, Obama said African American-owned firms were not getting any business from state pensions. Obama singled out Rogers’ Ariel Capital, calling it a well-respected investment house but one that received no business.
"We didn't have to implement a formal program," Obama told the Urban League, taking no credit. "I simply said, 'Listen to what these folks have to say,' and in about six months they got about a half billion dollars worth of business simply on their own excellence."
In 2002, the year after Obama made the pitch, the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System reported an 18% increase in assets managed by minority-owned firms. Ariel’s share grew to $442 million by 2005.
In 2006, after the federal investigation became public, the teacher pension board severed its relationship with Ariel, concluding that Ariel’s investment returns were insufficient.
It's quite interesting how the Chicago Tribune pretends the Rezko fundraising links its sister publication, the Los Angeles Times, put together based on testimony presented by the government during Rezko's Chicago trial, simply don't exist. If the newspaper was doing its job, it would stop repeating the line that there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Obama vis-a-vis Rezko when the evidence abounds. Not just with political fundraising but the financing of their personal homes. Yes, Tony Rezko helped Obama purchase his South Side mansion just like he helped the governor pay for that remodeling work on his North side home. A federal jury in Washington, DC recently convicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens for a strikingly similar quid pro quo. As they said during Watergate over and over again, follow the money. And when you do, the money trail from Tony Rezko leads directly to Gov. Blagoyevich AND BARACK OBAMA.