Cash-Strapped Blago “Struggling” to Pay Bills

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.Rod Blagojevich is the third-highest-paid governor in the country, but you wouldn't know it from conversations recorded by federal authorities.

He is heard on six weeks of recordings saying he is "struggling" financially, even though he makes $177,412 a year and his household income has averaged $344,000 annually for the past five years. He allegedly says he feels he is "stuck" as governor and imagines making as much as $300,000 as the head of a group pushing organized labor's agenda or a not-for-profit organization.

If he could land his wife a seat on one or more corporate boards and she "picks up another $150 grand or whatever," according to the recordings, it would help him "get through" his remaining two years as governor.

Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich on Tuesday on charges that include allegedly scheming to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate for anything from an ambassadorship to a corporate-board post for his wife.

"I want to make money," Blagojevich is quoted by authorities as saying on a federal wiretap recording, discussing whether President-elect Barack Obama would name him to a Cabinet post in exchange for who he thought was Obama's choice to take his Senate seat.

He also allegedly considered taking the Senate job himself because he would "be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting senator as opposed to a sitting governor," according to the government's complaint.

The comments depart from the happy-go-lucky image Blagojevich cultivated, of the fun-loving Elvis maniac who quotes obscure literary and historical figures and could often be seen jogging during the workday in his Chicago neighborhood or downtown Springfield.

The focus on money may reflect the pressures on a man who has been under federal investigation for more than three years. His campaign fund has paid more than $1 million in legal fees and still owes $750,000.

A witness cooperating with the investigation told authorities Blagojevich aimed to raise $2.5 million in campaign funds by the end of the year, when a new law takes effect limiting money raised by state contract-holders, according to a federal complaint.

As of June 30, the last time Blagojevich was required to report, the Friends of Blagojevich fund had $3.6 million in the bank.

But there's always the legal bills. The campaign fund has paid out $1.2 million in legal fees since 2005, according to research by Kent Redfield of the Sunshine Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Although his staff never has said what the expenditures cover, the time period coincides with when federal authorities began hounding the Blagojevich administration over allegations of "pay-to-play" politics, issuing subpoenas to administration agencies and interviewing scores of employees.

According to his latest campaign finance report, his campaign still owes $750,000 to Winston & Strawn, the Chicago law firm whose senior chairman is former Republican Gov. James Thompson.

Blagojevich's attorney has denied he did anything wrong.

Blagojevich's salary as governor trails only California and New York among 55 states and territories, according to the Council of State Governments. It's 40 percent higher than the $124,000 average gubernatorial salary.

And with his wife Patricia's income in real estate, which federal authorities also have been investigating, the Blagojeviches have averaged $344,000 in income since he took office. It topped $375,000 in 2003 but fell as low as $220,000 in 2007, according to federal tax returns.

The administration has said in previous years that the Blagojeviches' income increased or dropped depending on the amount of work Patricia Blagojevich was able to do as a real estate broker, or the viability of the real estate market.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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