From Chicago Tribune on May 3, 2007: "SPRINGFIELD - Barack Obama has expressed pride in his ability to bring home old-fashioned pork.
During his nearly eight years in Springfield, he tucked special earmarks into massive budget bills to shower small bequests on inner city schools, parks and youth service agencies.
But some of the larger grants Obama sponsored were tied to political allies and show how difficult it is even for politicians advocating reform to avoid the appearance of favoritism as they dole out taxpayer funds. Several non-profit directors, for instance, gave money to Obama's campaigns soon after their allotments were awarded.
"My philosophy was that, if money was being distributed, then it would be inappropriate for me to not get my share for my district," Obama, now one of the U.S. Senate Democrats' leaders on ethics reform, said in an interview. "Did I think it was the best way to prioritize government spending? No."
The Tribune analyzed 119 grants in which Obama steered more than $6 million for Chicago projects between late 1999 and late 2002, the heart of his Statehouse career and the center of a state government frenzy in which Obama said the pork-barrel process was "wide open."
Typical of his grants was the $5,000 Obama delivered to the South Shore Public Library for chess equipment, books and knitting supplies, or the $5,000 to help the Sir Miles Davis Academy plaster and paint walls and repair windows.
But other grants reflected politics. In 2001, for example, Obama steered $75,000 to a South Side charity called FORUM Inc., which promised to help churches and community groups get wired to the Internet. Records show five FORUM employees, including one who had declared bankruptcy, had donated $1,000 apiece to Obama's state Senate campaign.
As the grant dollars were being disbursed to FORUM, the Illinois attorney general filed a civil lawsuit accusing the charity's founder of engaging in an unrelated kickback scheme. Just days after the suit was filed, Obama quietly returned the $5,000 in donations. "I didn't want to be associated with money that potentially might have been tainted," he said.
FORUM founder Yesse Yehudah, who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate against Obama in 1998, denied wrongdoing and, without admitting guilt, settled the attorney general's lawsuit by paying $10,000 to a charity. He declined to comment.
Obama was not accused of wrongdoing, and he said none of his state grants came about as a quid pro quo.
"It happens that there were major supporters in my district who had been supporters before they got member initiatives," Obama said, noting that some of his contributors had been his allies for years.
One of those long-time supporters was Rev. Michael Pfleger, the politically active leader of St. Sabina Church. He gave Obama's campaign $1,500 between 1995 and 2001, including $200 in April 2001, about three months after Obama announced $225,000 in grants to St. Sabina programs.
Pfleger said he made those donations personally, not on behalf of the church or to win grants.
"At a time when less people vote than ever, I don't think pastors should be silent on politics," Pfleger said.
Another supporter, Henry English, made two donations to Obama totaling $900 in 2001 after Obama helped send a $50,000 grant to a non-profit group that English ran, the Black United Fund of Illinois. English scoffed when asked if his donations were related to the grants.
"It's something that I did," he said. BUFI and Obama "have somewhat of a relationship. He is from down the street."
Personal ties to Obama also were evident in some pork dispensed by his political allies. The Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre received a $4.5 million grant to help pay for a $10 million cultural center.
Obama's mentor in Springfield, state Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago), sponsored the grant. And at the time $2.25 million of the grant was disbursed, Obama's wife, Michelle, sat on the non-profit dance group's board.
Obama said in the interview that at the time of the award in 2003 his wife wasn't a board member, though tax returns of the charity indicate she sat on the board in 2002 and 2003. Jones' spokeswoman said Michelle Obama did not lobby him for the funds."