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Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 12:58 am

There must be a God...

...because she gave political reporters another entertaining governor

Every day for four years I got down on my knees and thanked God for sending me George Ryan. I knew that no matter how slow the news day was, I could always count on the former governor’s various scandals and antics to provide enough interesting fodder to fill up white space.

Reporter: “Gov. Ryan, are you ‘Official A’ ”

Ryan: “I don’t believe I am. I sure as hell don’t think I am.”

As I said, the man consistently provided solid-gold material.

Remember when we learned from semiannual campaign finance documents that Ryan’s campaign fund had spent about $800,000 in the second half of 2001 on legal fees alone? Most of that money went to Chicago law firm Altheimer & Gray, but Ryan eventually hired former governor Jim Thompson’s firm, Winston & Strawn. Every six months after that we were all treated to more stories about Ryan’s ever-rising legal tab (it topped out at $2.5 million) — right up to the day when the feds used a RICO Act beef to freeze and then convict the formerly bounteous campaign fund.

But there’s really no need for nostalgia. It’s almost as if George never left.

I’ve certainly felt blessed these past three-and-a-half years as Gov. Rod Blagojevich has picked up where Ryan left off — even doing him better on occasion. For instance, there are now more individual state, federal, and local investigations of Rod Blagojevich’s administration than George Ryan ever faced. That’s quite something.

And we even have the legal-fee angle to work once again. As you may have already heard, Blagojevich was billed for about $722,000 in legal fees between December and the end of June. The revelation was contained in his semiannual campaign-finance-disclosure report. Wouldn’t you know it, that law firm is the very same Winston & Strawn that defended Ryan up until the bitter, bitter end.

The governor has been criticized for months for not telling the public how many subpoenas he has received and what federal prosecutors are looking at, and now the same stone wall has gone up around his campaign fund. His staffers wouldn’t admit last week whether his campaign fund is a target of any investigation. In fact, his campaign won’t even say how they spent that giant pile of cash, other than to claim it was to make sure that all the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. A $722,000 legal bill is a heckuva lot of t’s.

The feds never talk about this sort of thing, so we’ll all just have to wait and see what develops. I’m not sure whether my knees can take another four years of all this praying, but life is certainly good. If Ryan was gold, Blagojevich has been platinum.

Meanwhile, the governor has continued raising campaign money at a record clip, and his Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, is at a serious cash disadvantage.

This little factoid should give you an idea of how much more money Blagojevich has in his campaign fund than Topinka does: The Blagojevich account earned more than $275,000 in bank interest alone between Jan. 1 and June 30. During the same period, Topinka’s campaign fund earned just $1,500 in interest.

We all knew that Blagojevich would outraise anyone who went up against him, but the reality is really starting to sink in. The governor raised $6.7 million and ended the six-month state filing period with about $12.2 million in the bank, meaning that if he raised sufficient cash in July to keep the lights on at the campaign headquarters and pay Jim Thompson’s legal bills, he has enough money to spend $871,000 a week on TV ads from now through Election Day. Topinka reported having $1.5 million on hand — meaning that she couldn’t keep up that pace for even two weeks. Topinka raised $3.2 million and spent about $3 million.

The bright side for Topinka is that the governor has already spent almost $10 million but still hasn’t moved his polling numbers out of the midforties. Unfortunately for Topinka, she has dropped down to the midthirties as a direct result of that campaign spending.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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