Sun-Times omitted key information in suggesting Obama conflict of interest
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
In a November 29 Chicago Sun-Times article, reporter Tim Novak wrote that in 2000, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), an Illinois state senator at the time, "voted with other directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago to invest $1 million with Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners L.P.," a housing development firm owned by Allison S. Davis, whom Novak described as "a developer represented by the law firm where Obama worked, as well as a small contributor to Obama's political campaign funds." Novak contrasted Obama with former Woods Fund board chairman Howard Stanback -- who "worked for Davis" at a separate company, as Novak noted -- by writing: "While Obama voted to make the $1 million investment with Davis, Stanback abstained, [current Woods Fund president Deborah] Harrington said." However, Novak failed to note that Stanback -- unlike Obama -- was listed as a "principal" in the limited partnership agreement through which Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners was formed.
According to Novak, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton "defended Obama's voting to invest the charity's money with Davis rather than abstaining to avoid the appearance of a possible conflict of interest." Novak quoted Burton saying: "It was a worthwhile project. ... It's not a conflict of interest to do what's right for your community."
Novak wrote in his November 29 Sun-Times article:
Seven years ago, Sen. Barack Obama was on the board of a Chicago charity when his former boss, Allison S. Davis, came looking for money.
At the time, Davis was a developer represented by the law firm where Obama worked, as well as a small contributor to Obama's political campaign funds. He wanted the charity to help fund his plans to build housing for low-income Chicagoans.
Obama agreed. He voted with other directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago to invest $1 million with Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners L.P., a $17 million partnership that Davis still operates.
It's not clear whether Obama told other board members of his ties to Davis, whose family would go on to donate more than $25,000 to Obama's political campaigns, including his bid to be president of the United States.
Davis quit the firm in 1996 to become a developer. But he continued to use his former law firm to represent him.
As a developer, Davis' partners have included Tony Rezko, the now-indicted political fund-raiser who has been among Obama's biggest political supporters.
A few months after Davis left the law firm, Obama won his first political office -- a seat in the Illinois Senate. His campaign contributors included Rezko and Davis.
Two years later, Obama wrote to city and state officials, urging them to give money to New Kenwood LLC, a company that Davis and Rezko formed to build an apartment building for low-income seniors at 48th and Cottage Grove.
Davis and Rezko were building that project in 2000 when Davis approached the Woods Fund, seeking its investment in future projects. Besides Obama, Davis also had ties to another of the not-for-profit organization's seven board members -- Howard Stanback, a former city aviation commissioner who worked for Davis at New Kenwood.
Stanback was the board chairman of the Woods Fund, a $68 million foundation "whose goal is to increase opportunities for less advantaged people and communities" by giving money primarily to not-for-profit groups involved in housing, the arts and other areas, according to its Web site.
While Obama voted to make the $1 million investment with Davis, Stanback abstained, Harrington said.
Stanback and Obama are no longer on the Woods Fund's board. Obama left in 2002. Stanback left last year.
Despite noting that Stanback "worked for Davis," Novak omitted Stanback's direct link to Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners. The December 27, 2000, agreement of limited partnership (p.4) through which Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners was formed lists both Stanback and Davis as "principals." Subsequent Woods Fund documents -- such as its 2002 annual report and 2003 annual report -- listed Stanback as a member of the board of directors, and stated that "[o]ne of the Fund's Directors was an employee of the general partner of Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners, L.P." and left that position in 2003. According to the limited partnership agreement, the general partner of Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners is Davis Associates Managers LLC.