Richardson in Trouble? Or Just Causing Trouble?

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The Obama campaign has cleared itself of all wrong-doing in Rod Blagojevich’s attempted sale of the vacant Illinois Senate seat, but they might have their own pay-to-play scandal on their hands.

…two former state officials say they’ve recently been questioned by a federal grand jury specifically about allegations that [Secretary of Commerce designate Bill] Richardson or aides pushed state business worth nearly $1.5 million in fees toward CDR Financial Products in 2004. The company is headquartered in Beverly Hills.

This was about the same time as CDR’s founder, Rubin, donated $100,000 to two of Richardson’s political action committees; mainly it appears to cover expenses of the governor and his staff at the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Boston that summer.

Rubin also donated another $29,000 to Richardson’s unsuccessful presidential campaign this year and last.

Right now, Rahm Emanuel is screaming, “[Bleeping] Richardson!” Or he’s screaming, “[Bleeping] vetters!” Because in a transition focused on avoiding drama, headed by a president-elect who has made ethics reform a major part of his political persona, the fact that a high-level appointee may be guilty of straight-up corruption means someone screwed up big time. Either the massive questionnaire that Obama Administration job seekers had to fill out was ignored for top people, or Richardson lied to the Obama staffers who were in charge of scrutinizing his background.

Either way, Rahm probably isn’t the only one who is pissed. Obama himself can’t be happy. He’s going to be dogged by this for as long as the investigation goes forward (it probably isn’t problematic enough that he can just cut Richardson loose tomorrow), and while he would probably be willing to endure that for one of his superstars (Clinton, Summers, Holder), he must be frustrated that he is forced to endure it for a small potatoes pick like Richardson.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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