Every day for four years I got down on my knees and thanked God for sending me Gov. George Ryan. I knew that no matter how slow the news day was I could always count on Ryan's various scandals and antics to provide enough interesting fodder to fill up sufficient white space.
REPORTER: Governor Ryan, are you "Official A"?
RYAN: "I don't believe I am. I sure as hell don't think I am."
Like I said, the man consistently provided solid gold material.
Remember when we learned from semi-annual campaign finance documents that Ryan's campaign fund had spent about $800,000 in the second half of 2001 on legal fees alone? Most of that money went to Chicago law firm Altheimer & Gray, but Ryan eventually hired former governor Jim Thompson's firm Winston & Strawn. Every six months after that we were all treated to more stories about Ryan's ever-rising legal tab (it topped out at $2.5 million) - right up to the day when the feds used a RICO beef to freeze and then convict the formerly bounteous campaign fund.
But there's really no need for nostalgia. It's almost like George never left.
I've certainly felt blessed these past three and a half years as Governor Rod Blagojevich has picked up where Ryan left off - even doing him better on occasion. For instance, there are now more individual state, federal and local investigations of Rod Blagojevich's administration than George Ryan ever faced. That's quite something.
And we even have the legal fee angle to work once again. As may have already heard, Gov. Blagojevich was billed for about $722,000 in legal fees between December of last year and the end of june. The revelation was contained in his semi-annual campaign finance disclosure report. And wouldn't you know it, that law firm is the very same Winston & Strawn that defended George Ryan up until the bitter, bitter end.
The governor has been criticized for months for not telling the public how many subpoenas he has received and what federal prosecutors are looking at. And now the same stone wall applies to his campaign fund. His office wouldn't admit last week whether his campaign fund is a target of any investigation. In fact, his campaign won't even say how they spent that giant pile of cash other than to claim it was to make sure that all the T's were crossed and the I's were dotted. A $722,000 legal bill is a heckuva lot of T's.
The feds never talk about this sort of thing, so we'll all just have to wait and see what develops. I'm not sure if my knees can take another four years of all this praying, but life is certainly good. If Ryan was gold, Blagojevich has been platinum.
Meanwhile, the governor continued raising campaign money at a record clip and his Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, is at a serious cash disadvantage.
This little factoid should give you an idea of how much more money Gov. Blagojevich has in his campaign fund than Topinka: The Blagojevich account earned over $275,000 in bank interest alone between January 1 and June 30. During the same period of time, Topinka's campaign fund earned just $1,500 in interest.
We all knew that Gov. Blagojevich would outraise anyone who went up against him, but the reality is really starting to sink in. The governor raised $6.7 million and ended the six-month state filing period with about $12.2 million in the bank. That means if he raised sufficient cash in July to keep the lights on at the campaign headquarters and pay Jim Thompson's legal bills he has enough money to spend $871,000 a week on TV ads from now through election day. Topinka reported having $1.5 million on hand - meaning she couldn't keep up that pace for even two weeks. Topinka raised $3.2 million and spent about $3 million.
The bright side for Topinka is that the governor has already spent almost $10 million and he still hasn't moved his polling numbers out of the mid 40s. Unfortunately for Topinka, she has dropped down to the mid 30s as a direct result of that campaign spending.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com