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Obama OKs SuperPAC giving, refunds donations

Updated: March 9, 2012 8:21AM

WASHINGTON — President Obama changed his policy and is urging donors to give to a SuperPAC while the campaign is returning about $300,000 collected mainly by two Chicago brothers whose third brother fled to Mexico rather than face drug and fraud charges.

These developments — starting late Monday night and spilling over to Tuesday — threw a spotlight on the Obama fund-raising operation—helped along by disclosures the Obama team has voluntarily made about its fund-raising practices and its elite corps of donors.

That’s the point of disclosure: throw out information and see where the facts lead, for better or worse.

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is trying to avoid scrutiny by being secretive about his fund-raising; where he goes to raise money and who are the individuals who help him the most.

Romney has refused to reveal his “bundlers” — people who tap their extensive personal networks to raise money. I know Romney has a national finance committee because I’ve seen some of the members — easy to spot with special name tags — getting the VIP treatment at Romney election night events in New Hampshire and Florida.

SuperPAC switch

Obama, a prolific fund-raiser, has bemoaned big money in campaigns while he raised a record take in 2008. He criticized the Supreme Court for a 2010 ruling paving the way for the creation of third party SuperPACs allowed to take unlimited, unregulated contributions.

Faced with massive Republican third party SuperPAC fund-raising, Obama personally gave approval to his bundlers to contribute to Priorities USA, a SuperPAC allied with the president and run by two former Obama White House staffers, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, who worked for Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he was Obama’s chief of staff. Top White House, campaign and Cabinet officials will also appear at events to woo donors.

Refunded donations

The Obama campaign is refunding the contributions after the New York Times broke the news about money donated and collected by Alberto Rojas Cardona, his brother Carolos, two sisters, a sister-in-law and a handful of others.

Alberto Rojas Cardona was a member of the Obama National Finance Committee, a “bundler” who, according to a list released by the Obama campaign last week, raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee. On Tuesday morning his name was scratched from the Obama website.

The New York Times reported late Monday Alberto and Carlos are brothers of Mexico casino owner Juan Jose Rojas Cardona — known as Pepe — who skipped bail in Iowa in 1994. The story said that Juan Jose Rojas Cardona “has since been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico. A State Department cable in 2009 said he was suspected of orchestrating the assassination of a business rival and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials.”

The campaign said the family bundled about $200,000; another $100,000 came from others brought in by the family.

In the tight-knit world of elite donors, the Cardona brothers jump out because they have no track record of political giving until now.

Manny Sanchez is a Chicago lawyer and Obama fund-raiser who helps raise money among Hispanics. He said he met Alberto and Carlos Cardona at an Obama National Finance Committee meeting in Washington last December. He was struck that he did not know the Chicagoans because “it is rare for me not to know a Latino supporter.”

According to records in the Illinois Secretary of State office, the brothers are Near North Side residents — living close to the Obama campaign Prudential Building headquarters. According to Federal Election Commission and state records, they run Tango Latin Inc. and an affiliate, Tango Productions, marketing and promotion firms.

The New York Times also reported that Carlos Rojas Cardona “arranged for the former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party to seek a pardon from the governor for Pepe Cardona, according to prosecutors in that state. None was forthcoming.”

Asked by the Sun-Times why the campaign vetters — who focus on major donors, not the million or so small contributors — did not pick up on the Cardona family, the senior official said, “it was very difficult to track down full information on this one. Obviously the New York Times put investigative resources into doing so. We don’t necessarily have, our vetters don’t necessarily have, that same ability to pursue that in the case of our 1.3 million donors. As soon as the questions were raised, we refunded the contributions.”

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