During the long, excruciating overtime state legislative session of 2007, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan complained that Gov. Rod Blagojevich had a habit of diverting high-level discussions away from the budget and toward Madigan’s ties.
Madigan, it should be said, does wear some eye-catching ties. He takes no credit for his taste in clothing, however. His wife, he says, picks out his ties for him.
Speaker Madigan confided to me one day back then that whenever Blagojevich would compliment Madigan on his choice of ties, he would always complain that, as governor, he couldn’t afford such fashion gems. Madigan has a lucrative law practice which brings in a pretty penny. Blagojevich couldn’t do side jobs as governor, he would repeatedly explain to Madigan and everyone else in the room, so he couldn’t afford to dress like Madigan.
The House Speaker seemed quite frustrated at the time with Blagojevich’s fixation on his fetching ties, rather than on dealing with the budget deadlock and general political gridlock. After all, it wasn’t like Blagojevich dressed poorly. He always wore sharp clothes. He even showed up at the State Fair once dressed in designer blue jeans.
Thanks to his federal corruption trial, we now know that it was taste, not money, which caused Blagojevich to wax envious whenever he saw Madigan wearing a pretty tie.
According to testimony by an IRS agent last week, the former governor and his wife spent a mind-boggling $400,000 on clothes between 2002 and 2008.
Just for a little context, Blagojevich spent about half his after-tax income as governor on clothes. Not to mention that the man usually worked out of his house or down the street at his campaign office.
All told, Blagojevich spent $206,000 at a single men’s store – the Tom James Company, a custom clothing maker. He spent another $31,000 at Geneva Custom Shirts. Blagojevich and his wife shelled out $57,000 to Saks Fifth Ave. and $29,000 to Neiman Marcus.
By August of 2008, the Blagojevich’s had run up over $90,000 in credit card debt – more than half of the governor’s gross annual salary. Their total “consumer debt” by the morning of Blagojevich’s arrest was more than $210,000.
Last week’s trial included the playing of a surveillance recording from November 2008, of Blagojevich bitterly complaining about how his wife’s real estate business was all but dead. Reporters had dug through Mrs. Blagojevich’s client list in an attempt to show she often did no work for the money she made off of connected insiders. During that process, reporters called several of her former clients, and that, combined with the negative publicity and Mrs. Blagojevich’s real fear of a federal indictment, led to her company’s collapse.
A minute or two later, Blagojevich whined about an upcoming financial burden.
“Amy is going to college in six years and we can’t afford it. I can’t afford college for my daughter,” Blagojevich exclaimed.
During the six days after he complained about his dire financial situation, Blagojevich plunked down $858 for four ties at Saks.
Apparently, the man couldn’t help himself. It goes without saying that $400,000 would’ve paid for a whole lot of college tuition for both of his kids.
It also goes without saying that prosecutors have established a very strong financial motive for several of Blagojevich’s alleged crimes.
Financially, he was in way over his head. The very real possibility of impeachment, which he constantly fretted about on the tapes, would dry up his future earning prospects. His wife’s career was in ruins. He was at the end of the line. There would be no more designer ties, handmade shirts and custom suits he so clearly loved. When Barack Obama won the president’s race and his U.S. Senate seat suddenly became vacant, Blagojevich pounced on the opportunity as his ticket out of debt and back to the high life.
It won’t be difficult for Blagojevich’s jurors to make this connection. They’ve seen the fancy clothes he’s worn during the trial. None of them are millionaires who could afford such nonsense, so this is a devastating attack by the prosecution.
I hope Blagojevich doesn’t mind wearing orange, because a federal jumpsuit is most probably in his future.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.