Burris Tried to Raise Money for Blagojevich

Posted February 17, 2009 at 2:44pm

Updated: 5:57 p.m. Though he continues to deny that he engaged in “pay to play” to get his Senate seat, Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) told reporters Monday night that he did attempt to raise campaign funds for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — who was removed from office following allegations that he attempted to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. On Tuesday, Burris said he is open to any Senate Ethics Committee investigation that may ensue based on his actions, which includes a possible perjury investigation of his testimony to an Illinois House committee that was pursuing impeachment charges against the governor. “I welcome the opportunity to go before any and all investigative bodies … to answer questions they have,” Burris said, according to the Chicago Tribune. In a separate Tribune story, Burris acknowledged to reporters Monday night that he tried to organize a fundraiser for Blagojevich following a call from the governor’s brother, Rob Blagojevich, in October. After attending a Peoria Democratic dinner, Burris indicated that he had agreed to try to raise $10,000 to $15,000 for the governor. “The governor’s brother’s on a routine fund-raising call indicated, ‘I am now the new fund-raiser for the governor, and Roland you’ve been helpful for us in the past,’ and I said, ‘Yes, you know, I’ve certainly tried to work with the governor. I’ve tried to help you all. A lot of people didn’t,’” Burris told reporters, according to a transcript on the Tribune’s Web site. “I said, ‘I don’t know but I can’t do it now because we are in the midst of an election. Call me after the election.’ … So some time shortly after Obama was elected, the brother called. And now in the meantime, I’d talked to some people about trying to see if we could put a fund-raiser on. Nobody was — they said we aren’t giving money to the governor. And I said, ‘OK, you know, I can’t tell them what to do with their money.’” Burris also acknowledged that he talked to Rob Blagojevich during the fundraising call about being appointed to Obama’s seat. But Burris said he had trouble finding people to contribute to the governor, and offered to contribute himself and recruit his law partner. Burris said he told the governor’s brother, “‘We’ll probably have a thousand dollars for you or something to that effect.’” Burris said he finally discussed the matter with his law partner and decided, “‘I’m interested in the Senate seat. I can’t raise any money for him.’ And so [Rob] called me back and … I told him that. I said, ‘No. 1, I can’t raise any money for you and I can’t give you any money because I don’t want to have a conflict.’ I mean, that should give some indication of my commitment right there to get out of pay to play.” Burris made the comments while trying to explain to reporters why he failed to acknowledge his contacts with the governor’s brother and other Blagojevich associates during an Illinois House impeachment hearing in January. Illinois House members repeatedly asked Burris whom he had spoken with in the run-up to his Dec. 30 appointment by Blagojevich to Obama’s seat. Burris attempted to deflect most of the questions, and made a vague reference to “friends.” When he was asked to clarify who those friends were, Burris did not name Rob Blagojevich, with whom it appears he had at least three conversations. Burris filed an affidavit with the statehouse Friday noting he had not told them that he had contacts with several Blagojevich associates, including the governor’s brother. Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said in a statement Thursday evening, “Senator Reid supports Senator Burris’ decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials who may review this matter, including state agencies and the Senate Ethics Committee.” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is traveling overseas and is not expected to comment until this weekend at the earliest. The Democratic Illinois Speaker on Tuesday turned over the affidavit and transcripts of the hearing to state prosecutors in an attempt to determine whether the case merits an indictment for perjury, according to the Associated Press. Burris reportedly said Tuesday that he has reached out to the prosecutor in the case because he has “nothing to hide.”