As the accumulation of daily posts at Rezkorama shows, the interest in the Rezko trial is building, and Senator Obama has already come up twice in the proceedings.
But the key to Obama-Rezko is unlikely to be the subject of direct testimony –the house deal.
Before exploring anything to do with the pricing of the house and the lot next door –purchases by the Obamas and Mrs. Rezko respectively– understand that at the time of the transaction, Barack Obama was subject to the rules of the Senate, which are extensive on the subject of gifts. The rules also define “gift” quite broadly:
WHAT IS A GIFT?
The word ”gift” is defined broadly and includes any ”item having monetary value.” Specifically, paragraph 2(b)(1) of the Rule states:
[T]he term ”gift” means any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan,forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The term includes gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred.
Having defined the gift, here’s the prohibition:
Most recently, the Senate Gifts Rule was revised by Senate Resolution 158, 104th Congress, effective January 1, 1996. A 1994 Report of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs (S. Rpt. No. 103-255, 103d Cong., 2d Sess.) offers insight into the purposes behind changes to the Rule effectuated by Senate Resolution 158. The current Rule places significant new restrictions on the ability of Senate Members, officers, and employees to accept gifts.
Senate Rule 35.1(a) sets forth the basic rule on accepting gifts. It states:
(1) No Member, officer, or employee of the Senate shall knowingly accept a gift except as provided in this rule.
(2) A Member, officer, or employee may accept a gift (other than cash or cash equivalent) which the Member, officer, or employee reasonably and in good faith believes to have a value of less than $50, and a cumulative value from one source during a calendar year of less than $100. No gift with a value below $10 shall count toward the $100 annual limit. No formal recordkeeping is required by this paragraph, but a Member, officer, or employee shall make a good faith effort to comply with this paragraph.
The figure of $50 (which is actually a dollar limit of $49.99) applies to each gift received,unless the gift falls under an exception. The figure of $100 (which is actually a dollar limit of $99.99) applies to the aggregate value of all non-exempt gifts received from a single source during a calendar year. Thus, the value of all non-exempt gifts from a single source in a calendar year must be tallied. Any gift worth less than $10 is excluded under Rule 35.1(a)(2) and does not count towards the $99.99 total. Once the tally reaches $99.99, all further non-exempt gifts from that source in that year must be declined.
There are 23 exceptions to the gifts rule –and none of them go to real estate transactions designed to allow a senator to buy a house bigger than his budget permits by splitting the house and the vacant lot next door into two parcels and having Mrs. Rezko buy the empty lot.
Does that look like a gift to you? Does it feel like a “favor” done for an important man by a political fixer?
Byron York and I discussed this yesterday, and I suggested Byron pose the question on one of the Team Clinton calls: If the Clinton folks want the press to focus on the Rezko trial –and they do– why hasn’t Mrs. Clinton filed a complaint in the Senate Ethics Committee against Obama for receipt of a prohibited gift?
Everyone who recalls buying their first home and hunting for the down payment or getting some help from mom or dad knows what happened here –the Obamas got a favor from the Rezkos. Now Rezko is in the dock and his finances very murky, leading to the question of who really did the favor for Barack Obama.
Perhaps some staffer in the Senate will send me some insight into their member’s reaction to such a deal: Routine avoidance of a near-complete prohibition on gifts, or a complaint waiting to be drafted? firstname.lastname@example.org
In his statement, Eliot Spitzer notably didn’t announce his resignation. Rather, he said the following:
“I do not believe that politics, in the long run, is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the state of New York.”
Spitzer may simply be waiting to resign, as doing so could be one of the conditions of a plea agreement.As a former Attorney General of New York, he presumably is well positioned to understand criminal law and the most advantageous way to handle this problem.
But his wording above is raising speculation that he may not plan to resign. If that’s true, it’s part of a new and troubling pattern in American political life. It’s not a partisan thing; Larry Craig’s refusal to resign was another manifestation of it.
The whole idea, pioneered by you-know-who and enabled by you-know-who-else, is that illicit sexual behavior and the scandals resulting therefrom can be brazened out by the insistence that they are irrelevant to the discharge of public duties.As I argue in my book, it’s all part of a new ethical calculus concluding that — uniquely in the constellation of virtues — sexual morality is a subjective and purely personal matter that’s of relevance only to “religious” people (or else prurient and “judgmental” ones), even when it impacts the public.
All of us are human, all of us are sinners, no one is perfect. Certainly, there but for the grace of God go any of us. But that doesn’t mean that there should be no standards.In particular, it’s unfortunate if and when public officials conclude that sexual behavior that’sdeeply disgraceful (not to mention illegal) doesn’t merit resignation. It degrades our culture, makes others complicit in condoning conduct that shouldn’t be condoned, and normalizes behavior that’s wrong.
No doubt it’s a sad day for Governor Spitzer — long a Democrat shining light — and his family. They merit our compassion on a personal level. But it’s appropriate and right that the Governor resign.