Factcheck.org: Rezko Reality

On the defensive over the extent of multiple McCain homes, the GOP candidate strikes back. But his TV spot gives an oversimplified and misleading account of how Obama bought his own $1.6 million house in Chicago.

The ad says Chicago power broker Tony Rezko got "political favors" including "$14 million from taxpayers." But there's no evidence of any connection to the Obama home purchase. The $14 million was to build apartments for low-income seniors. Obama wrote a letter supporting the "worthy" project, but both men say Rezko didn't ask for the letter.

It says Rezko "purchased part of the property [Obama] couldn't afford." Rezko's wife did buy an adjoining tract but later sold the land at a profit. Obama paid market price for his home.

McCain launched the attack after Obama ran one capitalizing on McCain's inability to recall for an interviewer how many homes the McCains own. Obama's ad says it's seven. The best tally we've seen puts the figure at eight, counting all the apartments and homes owned by McCain's wife, Cindy, and various family trusts, for themselves and their children.

On Aug. 21, Barack Obama released an ad chiding Sen. John McCain for his inability to remember how many houses he owns, and McCain responded the same day with a counterattack charging that Obama got help buying his house from a "convicted felon" who got $14 million in "political favors" from Obama. We find McCain's ad is careless with the facts and could easily leave a false impression.

John McCain 2008 TV Ad: "Housing Problem"
Announcer: Barack Obama knows a lot about housing problems.

One of his "biggest fundraisers" helped him buy his million-dollar mansion.

Purchasing part of the property he couldn't afford.

From Obama, Rezko got "political favors" including "$14 million from taxpayers."

Now, he's a convicted felon, facing jail.

That's a housing problem.

McCain: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.

A $14 Million "Favor"?
McCain's ad opens by turning Obama's housing problem attack back on Obama. The narrator says Chicago real estate developer Tony Rezko, one of Obama's "biggest fundraisers" helped Obama buy his "million-dollar mansion" by purchasing property that Obama couldn't afford. The ad goes on to charge that Obama helped Rezko receive "political favors" including "$14 million from taxpayers," and it points out that Rezko is now a convicted felon.

It's untrue that Rezko got "$14 million from taxpayers" for himself, as the ad seems to be saying. The "help" to which it refers is a one-page letter Obama signed in October 1998 urging the city housing commissioner to support an apartment project for low-income senior citizens. A copy went to the state housing development authority. The 97-unit Cottage View Terrace, which opened in 2002, was funded with taxpayer money, and Tony Rezko was involved in developing the project.

But the deal did not put $14 million into Rezko's pocket. That figure represents the total development cost for the project. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Rezko and his partner, Allison Davis, netted about $855,000. That's not pocket change, but it's a far cry from $14 million. And the tenants of the building benefited too.

Moreover, the ad's claim that Obama wrote the letter as a favor to Rezko is without factual support. Both men deny that Rezko asked Obama to write them, and Obama says his district office frequently sent letters supporting "worthy" community projects, so routinely that "I wasn't even aware that we wrote the letter." Rezko's attorney, Joseph Duffy, told the Sun-Times in 2007 that "Mr. Rezko never spoke with, nor sought a letter from, Senator Obama in connection with that project." And Obama told Sun-Times reporters in a March 2008 interview:

Obama (March 15, 2008): [He] did not solicit that from me. ... This was a project that was well-regarded in the community, has done well, and was supported on its own merits, and it was essentially a form letter of the sort that I did all [the] time.

Can support for a low-income housing project be a "favor" to the developer if the developer didn't ask for it? You decide.

Million-Dollar Mansion
As for that claim about Rezko helping Obama buy his house, well, we've dealt with that one before. The gist of the story: In 2005, Barack and Michelle Obama found a house that they wanted to purchase. The property had been divided into two parcels, one containing a house and the other undeveloped land. The owner had listed the properties separately. After considerable haggling, the seller accepted the Obamas' third bid of $1.65 million for the parcel containing the house. Tony Rezko's wife, Rita, purchased the adjoining lot for $625,000.

When the Obamas wanted to increase the size of their yard, they approached the Rezkos about purchasing a strip of the adjacent parcel. Obama told the Sun-Times that a 10-foot strip of the 60-foot lot appraised for $40,000. The Obamas nevertheless paid Rita $104,500 (or 1/6 of the total purchase price of her lot) for the strip. In 2007, Rita sold the remaining lot for $575,000 (or roughly a $54,500 profit on the overall property).

McCain's ad, however, is worded in a way that could leave a false impression. It says Rezko "helped him buy his million-dollar mansion" by "purchasing part of the property he couldn't afford." That's true, but only because the seller wanted to sell the two parcels as a unit and the Obamas couldn't afford both. Rezko did not make a gift of any property to the Obamas. Furthermore, the fact that his wife sold her lot for more than she paid for it contradicts any suggestion that the Rezkos overpaid for their part of the deal as a way of getting the seller to lower the price to the Obamas for their part.

Convicted Felon
The McCain ad says of Rezko, "Now, he's a convicted felon." That's true; Rezko was indicted in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges on June 4, 2008. But those charges came after the 2005 Obama home purchase and had nothing to do with that or with the $14 million project mentioned in the ad.

Obama has conceded that purchasing the land from Rezko, whom Obama knew to be under investigation at the time, was "boneheaded." As we reported in December, Obama has donated campaign contributions from Rezko and his associates to charity.

What About That Obama Ad?
As we mentioned, McCain's ad was prompted by an Obama attack ad released earlier in the day. In that TV spot, Obama criticizes McCain for not knowing just how many houses he owns. The answer depends on what you count as a McCain-owned home. We're going with our colleagues at PolitiFact.com, who decided that the McCain total is eight.

Republished with permission from factcheck.org.

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