January 4th, 2008
02:25 PM ET
10 years ago

Edwards campaign says Obama was a corporate sellout

(CNN) - In the wake of its Iowa loss to rival Barack Obama, John Edwards’ campaign is ramping up the negative tone of the final days of that race – accusing the Illinois senator of having once been a sellout to corporate interests.

Edwards has made his populist stand a cornerstone of his campaign.

"Barack Obama's kind of change is where you sit down and you cut a deal with the corporate world," Edwards Campaign Manager David Bonior said during an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. "If you look at his record in Illinois when he had a major - sponsored a major health bill that's what he did. He watered down with the help of the corporate lobbyist and they got a weak product out of that."

Scarborough asked: "Are you saying that Barack Obama is a sellout to corporate interests?"

Bonior replied: "He was four years ago in Illinois. All you have to do is look at the legislation I'm referring to."

Bonior was referring to health care legislation that Obama was instrumental in passing when he was an Illinois state senator five years ago, in part because he worked with insurance companies to make additions to the bill that would ensure their approval of the measure.

The Obama campaign immediately responded. In an e-mail to the Huffington Post, spokesman Ben Labolt said that "The reason Barack Obama won such a commanding victory in Iowa is because Americans of all parties are hungry for a leader who can bring people together to take on the special interests. That's how Barack Obama actually took on lobbyists and won in Illinois, and that's how he expanded health care to 150,000 Illinois children and parents."

–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand

soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. pj

    Oh please John why did you have to open your mouth, I hope that you would have realized what damage, slamming the others have done, I am so sick of hearing this junk. I just would like a candidate to be up front..
    Let it go,learn from the past mistakes.
    This is so childish. I want a person who is a grownup to lead this Country.

    January 4, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  2. Jose F.

    On the basically good vs. inherently unwell thought I mentioned in a previous comment, it was probably political theorist John Locke I was referring to and not the "blank slate/tablett" dude?

    January 4, 2008 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  3. Jacque Bauer

    Johnny is certainly desperate. Juts think about it – of the three dems standing, Johny cannot take any of the Hillary deserters – they will go 80% to Obama. Many of Johnny boy's own suporters will also leave him for Barak once they deem that Obama is indeed viable, which last night they witnessed.

    That leaves Edwards with about as much support as the recently deceased Biden and Dodd combined. Time to go back to your "Upper Half of Two Americas" 25,000 ft. house and $1000 hair cuts...

    January 4, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  4. Adam

    Edwards better watch his mouth if he wants the VP nomination...

    January 4, 2008 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  5. pam Eugene OR

    John, didn't you learn anything in Iowa. The voters do not want he bickering. Stop the negative or you will be the next one to go. Play like a good child and you might have a good shot at VP.
    When you attack everyone else it appears you do it because you have nothing positive to say about yourself.
    Wake up John the voters do not like it!

    January 4, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. The Watcher

    John Edwards is to presidential elections what the Oklahoma Sooners are to BCS bowl games. Nice try, thanks for playing, now let the other guy have the trophy.

    January 4, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  7. Sen

    It's about time somebody pointed out that Obama may talk the talk (& he does do that very well) but he doesn't walk the walk. If he's the change then why is he financed by the biggest lobbyists around? He's just the same old drink in a shiny new bottle. Just like everything Oprah sells, he's the newest fad she likes and America is lapping him up. Let's just hope Oprah and America doesn't make another awful blunder.

    January 4, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  8. Jose F.

    John Locke Article View
    On the File menu, click Print to print the information.

    John Locke
    II. Empiricism

    Locke’s empiricism emphasizes the importance of the experience of the senses in pursuit of knowledge rather than intuitive speculation or deduction. The empiricist doctrine was first expounded by English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon early in the 17th century, but Locke gave it systematic expression in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). He regarded the mind of a person at birth as a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which experience imprinted knowledge, and did not believe in intuition or theories of innate conceptions. Locke also held that all persons are born good, independent, and equal. See Epistemology; Philosophy: Modern Philosophy.


    "John Locke," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007
    http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
    © 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

    January 4, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. Erik

    Edwards needs to go away.

    I cringe every time he says he's a fighter ... remember the VP debates of 2004?

    Dick Cheney, one of the most unpopular politicians in America, absolutely SCHOOLED John Edwards.

    Edwards came across as an amateur, milk-toast whimp. As an attorney I will freely admit he can make a nice closing argument, but I haven't seen him slay any dragons on the Senate floor or in the American marketplace.

    At this point he doesn't know what else to do but campaign. It's rather sad.

    January 4, 2008 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  10. Jose F.

    Antoin Rezko

    For years, Antoin "Tony" Rezko was a strong advocate of grassroots Arab American activism in Chicago, providing funds for election campaigns and community outreach from profits he earned from an inner-city rehab program and from his growing food franchise business.

    Born in Aleppo, Syria. Rezko moved to Chicago after graduating from high school. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in civil engineering and construction management.

    Rezko was often the largest contributor to Arab American campaigns for political office. Rezko once said that he felt proud to be able to contribute to his community.

    Rezko is a member of the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which was founded by Lebanese American Danny Thomas and has many Arab American members, and also other philanthropic organizations around the country, many that serve Arab American interests.

    But several years ago, Rezko’s generosity began to appear on campaign disclosure forms for prominent politicians in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois.

    Today, those ties have made him the focus of an intense investigation surrounding allegations he profited from political favoritism and is involved in an abuse of set-aside programs that give minorities a preference in winning state, county and city contracts.

    Rezko is a co-owner of Rezmar which rehabs buildings in the inner city. With his Jewish American partner, Dan Mahru, Rezmar has transformed abandoned eyesores into livable residences.

    As Rezmar grew, Rezko entered the food service business and today holds franchise rights for the Panda Express Asian fast-food chain in five Midwestern states, including Illinois, and in Papa John’s, the nation’s third largest pizza chain.

    Last year, in a dispute with Papa Johns, Rezko renamed his 30 Chicago-based pizza franchises "Pappa Tony’s." Today, Rezko reportedly owns more than 125 restaurants around the Midwest and employs more than 3,000 people.

    Illinois is divided into three levels of political clout, beginning with Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois. Chicago and Cook County have always been Democratic controlled. The state was Republican controlled under Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan, and now is under Democratic control under Blagojevich.

    With the blessing of Chicago Mayor Daley, Rezko’s restaurant ventures included several exclusive franchises along the city’s beachfronts, on Chicago Park District property.

    When Cook County Board President John Stroger ran for election, Rezko made the single largest campaign contribution to his campaign, more than $90,000. In October 2000, Stroger introduced a resolution praising Rezko’s commitment to the county.

    Stroger, the county’s first African American county board president, is enjoying his second term in office. He has named Rezko as honorary chairman of his upcoming re-election campaign.

    Rezko also became an adviser to former Gov. George Ryan, who was later indicted on unrelated government corruption charges, and to Blagojevich. Rezko was introduced to state politics and Ryan’s predecessor, Jim Edgar, by Talat Othman, a longtime fundraiser for state and city government officials. Edgar is now an associate of the PR firm Rezko hired to represent him.

    Rezko raised more than $500,000 for Blagojevich.

    Under Blagojevich, Rezko’s role changed expanding from fundraising to helping to name individuals to head key state offices and commissions including several Rezko colleagues.

    But controversy soon erupted.

    In 1997, Panda Express won the right to open a lucrative concession at O’Hare International Airport under the city’s Minority Set-Aside program which directs large contracts to companies owned by Women, African Americans or Hispanics.

    The city awarded a 10-year contract for O’Hare Airport to Crucial Inc. in 1999, which the city believed was owned by an African American, Jabir Herbert Muhammad, the son of the late Elijah Mohammad.

    Crucial Inc.’s annual revenues skyrocketed from under $200,000 in each year before opening at O'Hare, to nearly $6 million in 2002, according to recently published reports. Crucial Inc. has earned nearly $16 million in its first four years at the airport.

    Last March, Chicago officials charged that Jabir Herbert Muhammad had acted as a front for the real owner, Rezko, who is of Syrian Arab heritage and does not qualify for minority set-asides.

    According to Mayor Daley, Jabir Muhammad founded Crucial Inc. in 1976. It was certified as a minority business in 1989. Rezko had been involved with the company since 1983, serving as a vice president and general manager. In July 1997, the company’s minority status lapsed but the forms were not renewed.

    Although Muhammad said he ran Crucial Inc., city officials said the company was run by Abdelhamid "Al" Chaib, and longtime friend and Rezko business associate.

    Rezko later told the Chicago Tribune that he did not do anything wrong and is surprised by all the attention. Daley said the city’s investigation showed that Crucial Inc. should never have received the contract and should be stripped off its minority business certification.

    Rezko’s clout grows

    Crucial Inc. was also hired as a subcontractor to telephone giant SBC Communications, which received an exclusive deal to provide 1,000 pay phones for Cook County Government.

    A spokesman for Stroger said County officials are investigating to determine whether or not Crucial Inc. still meets the county’s minority business criteria. Six of Rezko’s relatives have been placed on the Cook County payroll, according to published reports.

    In state government, Rezko’s ties resulted in a prize greater that lucrative financial contracts. At least three of his associates were appointed to influential positions overseeing hiring, contracts and policy.

    They include:

    Former business partner Jack Lavin, named to Gov. Blagojevich’s cabinet as Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. He served as Rezko’s former CFO. Lavin is an officer of Crucial Inc.
    Winnetka Podiatrist Fortunee Massuda appointed by Blagojevich in 2003 to sit on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. He is a partner in a real estate venture with Rezko.
    Kelly King Dibble, a Rezko business associate, was named by Gov. Blagojevich as executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
    Abdelhamid "Al" Chaib, vice president of Crucial Inc., is the sole owner of the Subway sandwich shops that have secured the rights to operate at seven of the State’s Tollway oases. Chaib also is a director of Rezko Concessions Inc., which is Rezko's portion of the joint venture with Panda Express, state records show.

    Already Rezko has become a target in the upcoming election campaign, Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka has alleged that Rezko is a part of a "shadow government" pulling the strings in the Blagojevich administration.

    Rezko has a long history of supporting Arab American causes. He made a significant donation to help establish the Ibn Rushd Lectureship in Arabic in 2002 at the University of Chicago. Rezko served as a former Executive Director to the Muhammad Ali Foundation. And, he was named "Entrepreneur of the Decade" by the Arab-American Business and Professional Association. The president and founder of ABPA is a generous and successful Chicago Arab American businessman and political adviser, Talat Othman.

    Another Arab Americans targeted

    Recently, Ali Ata, the former president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and a close associate of Othman, also came under scrutiny, this time by Chicago’s other newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times.

    Ata was a major contributor to the candidacy of Blagojevich, who served as a congressman before becoming governor. Ata reportedly donated more than $60,000 to Blagojevich. Ata has been active in supporting Arab American causes and was instrumental in helping to make ADC active in Chicago.

    But Ata’s ties to the state date back to Edgar and Ryan. He and three partners received more than $3.2 million when they convinced the state to lease a building they owned at 3500 W. Grand Avenue on Chicago’s poverty-stricken West Side in the early 1990s.

    Yet, the group, which included Faisal Mohammad, a prominent member and executive director of the the nearby al-Aqsa School which is located across from the Mosque Foundation/Bridgeview Mosque, reportedly defaulted on the property but failed to inform the state.

    In January 2004, Ata was appointed to a $127,000-a-year job as executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, one of Blagojevich's showpiece government streamlining initiatives, even though he had no finance experience and held a degree in engineering. Ata left the post in March 2005 following a state audit of his agency that criticized its performance and practices.

    A month later, Ata was offered a three-year contract worth a total of $165,600 to be a consultant to the Illinois Finance Authority on a coal-related energy initiative downstate. He declined the contract, according to the Sun-Times, after the newspaper began inquiring about his employment and the building lease.

    State Auditor General William Holland criticized the Finance Authority's accounting and financial reporting practices during Ata's first six months at the helm. Ata told the newspaper he was not surprised because he faced "the herculean task of consolidating five state financial offices into one."

    Blagojevich aides praised Ata’s performance.

    But apparently, Ata may have violated state law by failing to disclose in annual state economic interest forms his interest and ownership in the 29,000 square foot, west Grand Avenue property.

    Ata said he was not trying to hide anything. The building defaulted in 2003 and he took the job in January 2004. The form he would have completed in 2004 would have covered any interests in state contracts in the prior year.

    A marketing executive with a water treatment chemical company in Naperville called Nalco, Ata is also an investor in several real estate ventures, including redevelopment project in Chicago at Roosevelt and Clark in which has a $50,000 stake.

    He redevelopment is being led by Rezko’s firm, Rezmar Corp. Other investors in the Roosevelt and Clark development, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, include Michael Rumman, the outgoing director of Blagojevich's Central Management Services Department, and powerful state lobbyist William Filan, the cousin of Blagojevich's budget chief, John Filan.

    In published reports, Ata insisted Rezko did not land him the post, claiming he has known Blagojevich longer than Rezko. Ata’s political ties date back to the Edgar administration. He served as a co-chair on fundraisers organized on behalf of Edgar, Ryan and Blagojevich.

    Ata acknowledged that a Rezko nephew received a paid internship with the Finance Authority last summer while he was at the helm.

    None of the individuals named in these controversies have been charged with wrongdoing as the investigation continues.

    It is a shame that the community doesn't raly around these great leaders to help them and support them.

    (Ray Hanania is an award winning Chicago journalist and nationally syndicated columnist. He can be reached at rayhanania@aol.com.)


    Rezko restaurants avoid property taxes/Chicago Sun-Times /June 26, 2006

    Clout-heavy restaurant firms didn't pay property taxes: suit
    By Steve Patterson & Chris Fusco, Staff Reporters

    Restaurant companies linked to political insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko that shut down three eateries at O'Hare Airport after being accused of minority-business fraud now have another problem: A lawsuit alleges they didn't pay their property taxes.

    Crucial Inc. and the Panda Express restaurant chain allegedly owe $216,884 for back taxes and other fees to Host International Inc., which runs concessions for Chicago's airports. Host's lawsuit claims Host picked up the six-figure tab for Crucial and Panda and is now owed the sum by the two firms and their insurer, Washington International of Itasca.

    The total owed to Host includes tax bills going back nearly three years, as well as costs that Host bore to remove signs and other "miscellaneous equipment" from three Panda Express storefronts at O'Hare.

    O'Hare sites closed last year

    City officials last year alleged Crucial was a phony minority "front" for Panda and Rezko, a top fund-raiser for Gov. Blagojevich and other politicians. Crucial, which had an operating agreement with Panda, won the O'Hare concessions in part because it was certified as a minority-owned business. Crucial's largest shareholder was listed as Jabir Herbert Muhammad, son of late Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. Rezko's ownership stake was smaller.

    But city officials concluded Muhammad, 77, was not running the day-to-day operations of the restaurants as required by the city. Rather than fight City Hall, the companies agreed to move out of O'Hare in July.

    Reached last week, Muhammad said he was unaware of any problems regarding Crucial tax payments and "you know as much as I do about it all."

    Court records show neither Rezko, who could not be reached for comment, nor Muhammad have had lawyers file responses to Host's charges. The next court hearing in the case is set for October. Lawyers for Panda and Washington International could not be reached.

    While the Host lawsuit adds to Rezko's food-related legal troubles - firms linked to him also have been sued by a pizza chain - Rezko recently won an apparent victory in court. A suit last month by LaSalle Bank that claimed that Rezko owed $325,000 on a loan it gave him was dismissed shortly after being filed.

    January 4, 2008 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  11. Roger Tomczak

    Elections seem to have been won by TV adds (lots of them) The millions of dollars it takes for candidates to fund these adds must come from Corporations
    needing to buy the next President–as they did the last. Doesn't this fact make the
    Democrats slaves to the same Masters? The tube of the Blue-Teacher is a one way street of communication. How can americans of the rank and file respond to such a rigged setup?

    The two party system is rigged by Big "B". Look at what has happened to any other party that has tried to break through the mold. They weren't even allowed to get into the debates. As long as the Oligarchy and Plutocracy is allowed to rule, the working stiff can only stand helplessly alone and watch the rich get richer and the poor-continue-to get had. It has been so sinve 1973, and, will continue.
    America has been dumbed down since the 60's; wake up people and get Literate.

    January 4, 2008 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  12. Rod

    NObama please.

    It's easy to talk about change but nothing he has said is anything different. I've seen him in the debates and on Charlie Rose. Everything he says is all feel good stuff without any substance. His answers to questions are all non answers like so many other politicians. Americans are easily fooled by clever politicians (how else could Bush get elected twice) and the Obama team of experts has prepared him well to carry on that tradition. I'm a life long Dem and I've been fooled before. It's easy to see the Obama appeal after the last seven years of the worst president this country has ever seen. It's the same appeal Jimmy Carter had after watergate. Carter won but he was a disaster as president (love him now) just as Obama would be. I think if we nominate Obama we hand the presidency back to the repubs. Even distinguished blacks like Shelby Steel say he can't win. I personally would consider a third party candidate if Obama is nominated and I have always voted Dem. I hope the people of New Hampshire won't be fooled by the Obama illusion. We need a strong effective Dem in the white house and it ain't Obama! Don't be fooled again!

    January 4, 2008 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  13. Stephen

    Sage ... wake up and smell the hope in the air,

    Edwards has no chance to win anymore contests. He is on his last leg hoping to negative attack his way to a win, but we know its not going to work, especially not in NH.

    Since you mention the South .. he is running a distance third in SC, even his home state will not vote for him.
    His time is over, tell him to step aside and endorse the next President of the United States: Senator Obama.

    January 4, 2008 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  14. Trang, Fremont, CA

    Here is goes again. Edward apparently didn't learn anything from Iowa. Despite the strong organization from Hillary and the national lead in the poll, she loses because she went negative. Huckabee wins because he mostly stays on the positive. He got off track for a while, but correct himself and stay on the positive. Attack and you will self destruct just like Hillary. You have to find another strategy. Oh, I am sorry. You don't think talking will work. Attack is the way for you. No way you will be elected. America have seen enough destruction. They need to heal.

    January 4, 2008 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  15. Catherine

    Obama is a phony and the whole country will pay when the American Idol hype wears off, and we have real and substantial issues to face. This cult of personality around Obama is downright creepy.

    January 4, 2008 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  16. Ted Ziolkowski

    William Z;

    Read what you wrote and insert Hillary Clinton in everywhere you have used Barack Obama and maybe you can see the truth, you are out of step with the Wave of change about to hit this country.

    January 4, 2008 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  17. Sean

    John probably is desperate to win the state of NH but I don't see Obama as a strong fighter for the middle class and the people Edwards prosecuted as a lawyer were the drug and insurance companies who were taking their own self interests over the middle class interests to maximize their own profits. I haven't seen anywhere where Obama has done that so I support John over Obama and surely Corporate Clinton.

    January 4, 2008 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  18. Bea

    People sling mud when they have no true credentials to stand on. Can you say "desperate"? I wouldn't vote for Hillary or Edwards. The "sellout" comment was too much for me to take. When the Clinton camp started talking about the drug use, I was hugely disappointed. So many people have done stupid things in High School and College, but at least Obama was honest enough to talk about it years ago BEFORE anyone called him out on it. Also he used it as a teaching tool for kids. I respect that. How many of us are honest about exposing to the public the stupid things we did in our youth? Politicans paint the picture that either they were too pious to do studpid things or they didn't inhale.

    January 4, 2008 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  19. Ted Ziolkowski

    To all of you who say Barack stands for nothing and gives no details, go to BarackObama.com and read all his postion papers and then come back and speak informed and intelligently.

    January 4, 2008 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  20. Jason Chase

    John Edwards is the wrong man at the wrong time for this election.

    America is badly in need of change, change of direction, of vision, and division.

    Who could not take Obama's line from his speech to heart last night: we are not red states and blue states, we are the United States.

    Obama is the only candidate that can make that happen. The time is right in America for him and for every American - it really is morning in America this time!

    January 4, 2008 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  21. pmorlan

    I didn't want to coronate Hillary and I don't wan't to do it for Obama either. I think this is a legitimate issue that we need to hear more about. I hope the media will actually give us information on this subject. I don't like the idea of giving health insurance companies a seat at the table to help write healthcare legislation. Why should they be at the table? They don't represent the people, they represent their profits. Sure they can be called as witnesses and provide their testimony but to give them a seat at the table to actually help formulate policy is just plain nuts.

    January 4, 2008 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  22. BigD

    Mr. Edwards: With a comment like he made in this article, your campaign manager is a liability and must be terminated. Mr. Bonior's comment about Obama being a corporate sellout will cost you votes and kill any chance you have of reaching the White House. A very public apology or reprimand is in order.

    January 4, 2008 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  23. Richard - San Diego, CA

    Thanks Seth in Boston. I really like both Edwards and Obama; I rallied with both of them when they came to the California Democratic Convention here in San Diego in April of last year. I could see that Obama was much more of an attraction and he gave a great speech, but then it was Edwards the next day who really hit a home run with a strong speech big on vision and specific things he wanted to do as president. So I've been quietly supporting both of them and dreaming of an Edwards/Obama ticket.
    The one thing that I really think will hurt Obama in a general election (even in the primaries) is his position that undocumented aliens should be issued driver's licenses. That is not going to play well with a lot of Americans, including many Mexican-Americans who recognize we need to define certain rights and privileges in our country for those who are citizens or legal residents. When Obama stumbled on that answer, it opened up a weak area for him that will surely be exploited with venom by the Grand Oil Party. Edwards was right to simply answer, "No, I don't"(think that they should be granted DL's).

    January 4, 2008 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    you know i encourage those of you who are calling Edwards a fake and a phony to just look at his record and then look at Obama's record. What you will find is that Obama took $1.5 million from corporate interest groups during his senate run and you will also find that he has 8 corporate lobbyists on his current staff. Now how can you find corporate interest in Washington if they are helping you make your decisions? John Edwards is the only candidate who will fight and stand up for the right thing.

    January 4, 2008 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  25. DJ

    Edwards has my vote, now and forever. HIs speech at the National Democratic Convention 4 years ago brought me to tears (throughout the entire speech) and he won me over!

    We need a candidate who's passionate about change, but who is READY to lead...not one who is still cutting his teeth.



    Former UPS worker who worked 2 jobs for several years to make ends meet after the last round of major Tech Sector layoffs.

    January 4, 2008 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
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