McCain seeks to revive Rezko as campaign issue

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CHICAGO – Trailing as Election Day nears, Republican John McCain and his allies are using "robo-calls" and fliers to revive the issue of Barack Obama's ties to a convicted felon, claiming the Democrat hasn't fully explained the relationship.

"Obama needs to come clean on this deal before the election so that the voters can judge whether Obama received monetary benefits," says an automated phone call by McCain's campaign about a financial transaction between Illinois Sen. Obama and Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

Mailers to voters in swing states make similar claims, and a conservative group filed an ethics complaint Thursday with the Senate.

But McCain offers no evidence of wrongdoing and raises no new allegations. Instead, he and his supporters claim Obama hasn't been forthcoming about his involvement with Rezko.

"He's running for the highest office in the land and he simply refuses to answer questions," former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald claimed Thursday during a conference call arranged by McCain's campaign.

But Obama has given extensive interviews on the subject to Chicago newspapers, and a Chicago Tribune editorial praised his openness on the subject. He also has answered many — though not all — questions about from national reporters.

Obama's campaign responded sharply, accusing McCain of "desperate and angry attacks." It also noted that McCain was reprimanded for his role in the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal of the 1980s.

"We will accept no lectures from the man who was a central figure in the biggest Washington scandal in recent memory," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said.

Rezko is the Chicago businessman who gave Obama advice on a house purchase and ended up buying a vacant lot next door to Obama. The senator later bought a portion of Rezko's lot, enlarging his yard and making it harder for anyone to build next door.

Rezko, who has raised about $250,000 for Obama's various political campaigns, was convicted last June on federal corruption charges that did not involve Obama.

Obama has said it was mistake to get involved in a financial transaction with a campaign donor, but has denied doing anything improper.

He says he didn't ask Rezko to buy the adjoining property, and that he paid Rezko one-sixth of what the lot cost Rezko — more than market value — when he bought one-sixth of Rezko's property.

Obama released a statement from the sellers saying he didn't get special treatment. Obama paid about $1.6 million for the home — $300,000 below the original price. The sellers say Obama's offer was the best they got.

During the conference call with Fitzgerald, the man Obama replaced in the Senate after the 2004 election, McCain's campaign acknowledged it has begun using Rezko-themed robo-calls.

State Republican parties have mailed brochures to voters that ask "Who Is Barack Obama?" The question is answered with "Kickbacks, land deals and fraud." The brochures say Rezko was convicted of accepting kickbacks in a land deal, which is false and could be meant to suggest something illegal about Obama's house purchase.

The American Conservative Union filed a complaint Thursday with the Senate ethics committee alleging that Obama accepted an improper gift from Rezko and his wife. The group claims the Rezkos' purchase of the adjoining lot amounted to a gift.

The committee is under no obligation to investigate the complaint.