Robert Blackwell, Jr.
Shortly after Illinois state senator Barack Obama’s unsuccessful run for Congress in 2000, Obama was deeply in debt, with little cash at his disposal (his annual part-time salary as a state senator was $58,000) and a stagnant law practice that he had largely neglected during a year of political campaigning.
In early 2001 a longtime political supporter, Chicago entrepreneur Robert Blackwell Jr., hired Obama to provide legal advice for Blackwell’s growing technology firm, Electronic Knowledge Interchange (EKI). In exchange for his services, Blackwell paid Obama an $8,000-per-month retainer. Over roughly a 14-month period, Blackwell paid Obama $118,000.
In return, Obama pushed the Illinois state tourism board to send a $50,000 grant to EKI. A few months after receiving his final payment from EKI, Obama issued a formal written request for Illinois officials to furnish a $50,000 tourism promotion grant to another Blackwell company, Killerspin, which sells equipment and apparel related to the sport of table tennis. The day after Obama wrote this letter, his U.S. Senate campaign received a $1,000 donation from Blackwell. Killerspin would not receive the full $50,000 it was seeking that year, but only $20,000. With Obama’s help, however, the company eventually secured $320,000 in state grants between 2002 and 2004 to subsidize the table tennis tournaments it sponsored.
As blogger Ed Morrissey observes: “This looks like a rather obvious quid pro quo…. In exchange for $118,000 in salary, Blackwell received $320,000 in state taxpayer money and influence at the highest level of state politics.”
Obama’s presidential campaign website reported that Blackwell in 2008 committed to raise between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s White House run that year.