[Another column for The Wanderer, the nations oldest national Catholic weekly].
By Thomas F. Roeser
CHICAGOEverybody asks here: Who is Bob Kjellander and what special kind of clout does he have with the Bush people?
Having ditched Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense for political reasons, by admitting that, by following his commander-in-chiefs orders in Iraq he became a political liability, the Bush administration is hanging on for dear life to an obscure but powerful local political figure who threatens any future chance of GOP victory here through linkage to bipartisan Dem-GOP corruption by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor. The mysterious survival of the official may tell more than Republicans would want to know about the strange love-fest between President George W. Bush and Mayor Richard M. Daley, despite the fact that Daleys monolithic Cook county party delivers whopping majorities against everything the president stands for.
Official Washington follows the maneuverings of both parties with consummate attention but hasnt given more than a nanoseconds consideration to the uncanny ability of a close friend of Karl Rove to endure and prosper hugely through shadowy bipartisan dealings. Beyond his ability to become a multi-millionaire thorough close friendships with national Republicans and the Democratic state administration, the case of Robert Kjellander (pronounced sha-lander) is a glaring case history of how the Illinois GOP has become incestuously entwined with the Democratic party of Daley for the last thirty years.
Kjellander is the Republican National Committeeman for Illinois, holding down a post that in years past have gone to venerable GOP patriarchs including James M. Kemper, founder of the Kemper Insurance Group and Robert D. Stuart, Jr., chairman of The Quaker Oats Company, both of whom had spent decades of service in fund-raising and organization for the GOP. The Illinois native parlayed savvy patronage work for a liberal Republican governor to lobbyist and then, through friendship with Karl Rove, to not only Committeeman but also national treasurer of the GOP. He is involved in a federal corruption investigation concerning his winning the Illinois pension fund business for the Carlyle Group, a Washington private equity investment firm with top ties to Democratic and Republican establishment figures. Bush-appointed federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is probing corruption at the Illinois Teachers Retirement Systems, a state-run teachers pension fund. Kjellander received $4.5 million in fees from the Carlyle Group for delivering an okay from the Democratic Blagojevich administration. Fitzgerald wants to know if Kjellander, who is no investment banker and has no training as such, did any work at all in getting the business for Carlyle or if he just utilized political contacts which may have been greased by some exotic machinations. Most Republicans want to know if Kjellander did double-agent service to Governor Rod Blagojegvich for being made a multi-millionaire by the Democratic state administration. Recently he was served with a subpoena by Fitzgerald in the matter.
Kjellander may be as innocent of any dereliction as its possible to be but it is stunning to Republicans here that no matter how soiled he makes the GOP seem he cant be gotten rid of through his friendship with Karl Rove, the presidents political guru. Rumsfeld, who was scandal-free and loyal to Republican principles, was expendable but not Kjellander whose name in Illinois is identified with the states worst political hustler tradition.
In 2002, the Republican-establishment-connected Carlyle Group hired Kjellander to secure an eventual $500 million investment from the teachers pension fund. The pension board says it knew nothing about Kjellanders finders fee of $4.5 million.
The scandal caused a public uproar in Illinois which prompted the Illinois State Senate to pass legislation banning such payments. Kjellander called the bill an overreaction. In 2003 with the headlines still warm, he was involved in yet another pension deal, a $10 billion one with the Bear-Stearns investment firm that netted him a finders fee of $809.000. After the deal came under scrutiny by the state General Assembly in 2004, neither state officials nor Bear Stearns could document any proof that Kjellander had done anything to effect the deal. This sparked investigations by the SEC, the Illinois attorney general and the governors inspector general.
The scandal proceeded to capture local news coverage here when a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2004 alleged that a Bear Stearns broker who worked with Kjellander on the deal helped win the contract for the firm through a criminal kickback scheme. The broker was one Nicholas Hurtgen who resigned from Bear Stearns in 2004, after earning for his firm a $500,000 consulting fee for a separate $100 million investment from the teachers pension system which the feds are probing as well. Hurtgen was indicted on separate criminal charges last year for allegedly extorting hospital officials in Naperville, Illinois into using Bear Stearns to finance their new hospital construction project.
All the while, the man known as Big Boba portly man with white hairis leading a charmed political life. In the midst of the bad press here for his consorting with Democrats, he was elected by the Republican National Committee as its treasurer. How the top elected GOP party official in Illinois can be rewarded by a Democratic governor without compromising the GOP and still be rewarded by the Bush National Committee may seem curious but not when one examines the increasing two-party Combine (the name giving incestuous patty-cake playing by pols here) by the Chicago Tribunes sole legatee of the papers glorious old tradition, John Kass.
Time was in Illinois tradition when pols stayed largely within their own party precincts and cooperation was short-lived. Illinois best modern governor, William (Billy the Kid) Stratton won votes for himself while benefiting old Mayor Daley by building state expressways around Chicago to ease clogging traffic in the early postwar years. In return Daley found an honorable but uncharismatic candidate against Billy the Kid: a judge who put people to sleep. Stratton won but when he didnt continue to help Daley, the old man mobilized a statewide campaign to win for Democrats slight control of the state House. Stratton trumped Daley by cutting a deal with southern conservative Democrat, Paul Powell (called in southern Illinois-ese Pol Pal), getting Republicans to vote for Powell as Speaker on the second ballot with the result that both of them stuck it to old man Daley. But that was good clean fun. The new generation to which Bob Kjellander belongs uses two-party politics not to accomplish governmental goals but to personally enrich.
Kjellander started as a youthful volunteer organizer of the College Young Republicans and got to know Karl Rove in the activity. While in an earlier era, Republican businessmen risked their futures in behalf of a party that in the Depression was desperately unpopular, in the 1970s and `80s, Kjellander and Rove matriculated in paid-to-play staff roles. Rove started a prosperous direct mail campaign business trading on political contacts. Kjellander began his career as a foot soldier, following Republican governor Richard B. Ogilvie (1968-72) , the original progenitor of get-rich-quick secret agreements between the Richard J. Daley and Republicans. Ogilvie, a grim, humorless tactician, pleased liberals by passing a state income tax which ended his career whereupon he was called a martyr. Joining with Republican Senate president W. Russell Arrington, a multi-millionaire, Ogilvie, who admired Richard J. Daleys machine, trained young GOP staffers in a political command school. They graduated with lobbyist political skills placed at the service of whatever party paid the higher rewards. Ogilvie became a wealthy lawyer when he returned to private life, adored by Democrats and Republicans alike for his service to liberaldom.
His young devotee, Bob Kjellander began as a teen-aged driver for the candidate, a job hotly sought-after by youthful male political climbers since being a campaign driver gives intimate association between candidate and importuner inside an automobile driving for long hours at night with no one interfering.
But it was under Republican Governor James R. Thompson, a 6 foot 6-1/2 inch giant of a man (ironically a famous former U. S. Attorney here), a gregarious brilliant campaigner who is unburdened by GOP philosophy, that Kjellander perfected his trade. He became Thompsons director of patronage, rewarding subservient Democrats and obedient Republicans with state jobs. That there was no discernible difference between Thompson and liberal Democrats became clear as the governor glad-handed his way through friendships and deals with a succession of Democratic mayors culminating with an enduring friendship with Richard M. Daley. Thompsons latest foray has been to defend his former lieutenant, ex-governor George Ryan, who was convicted on all counts of corruption and is due to begin a 6-year prison term soon. Also to hire out his law firm as an ethics adviser to guide Blagojevich who is also under probe by the feds.
After Thompson left office, Kjellander benefited hugely from dealings with Republicans Jim Edgar and Ryan. He was Ryans choice for national committeeman. In that role, he succeeded in getting Judy Baar Topinka, the last survivor of the old Thompson-Edgar-Ryan crowd to run in a losing effort for governor, Topinka actually receiving fewer votes this year than her nemesis Alan Keyes did against Barack Obama in 2004 when Topinka publicly labeled Keyes a disaster.
But now, while Ryan is heading to jail and Thompson, at age 70, is thinking about retiring, Bob Kjellander is warmly serving as Illinois consultant to the Carlyle Group, the Washington, D. C.-based firm with at least $44.3 billion of equity capit al under management. It employs what it calls more than 300 investment professionals in 114 countries, which takes its name from its first meeting place where wheelers dealt themselves in, at the Carlyle in New York City.
For a one-time driver for Dick Ogilvie, Kjellander has moved into high companyconsultant to one that owns rental car company Hertz, Dunkin Brands (of which Dunkin Doughnuts are a part), Baskin-Robbins, sizable pieces of Casema, a Dutch company and all of Insight Communications, the ninth largest cable company in the U. S. along with controlling interests in several military contractors. The Saudi Arabian relatives of Osama bin Laden were prominent investors in Carlyle until October, 2001 when the heat from 9/11 pushed the family to sell it investment back to the firm.
In fact, the bipartisan-friendly status of Carlyle Republicans and Democrats which typifies much of U. S. investment has become similar to state political dealings. Which is seriously troubling to Illinois conservative Republicans as state politics becomes blurred beyond recognition of what is Republican and what is Democrat.
Carlyle is a living, breathing hissing zoo snake-house of wriggling, entwining and cooperating Democrats and Republicans. The corporation is stuffed to the gills with nodding and often-agreeing ex-officials who served many administrations. A huge bipartisan panel of business types are or were associated with Carlyleand they range from establishment Republicans to extreme lefty Democrats who do not wish the U. S. well in its foreign dealings.
Examples: Former president George H. W. Bush who served as paid senior adviser; George W. Bush, who served on the board until he resigned to run for governor of Texas; G. Allen Andreas, chairman of Archer-Daniels-Midland; George Soros, billionaire and left-wing political contributor who funds the most virulent anti-U. S. propaganda; James Baker III, former secretary of state under George H. W. Bush; John Major, former Tory British prime minister who was chairman of Carlyle-Europe; Richard Darman, a Rabbis son who became OMB director under the senior Bush; Frank Carlucci, former U. S. Secretary of Defense and close friend of Donald Rumsfeld; Mack McLarty, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. When Cong. Rahm Emanuel leaves public life, one Carlyle officer told me it is likely he will receive an offer to serve in a high post for the corporation.
To all of the foregoing and future money sharks, consultant Robert Kjellander is distinctly a tiny minnow indeed. When this reporter had lunch with him some time ago, he played completely the good old boy who lives the simple life of multi-millionaire in southern downstate Springfield. He has the twang and the wide grin. A Lutheran who says hes pro-life, hes married to a Catholic who definitely is, he says. I really believe in the principles of Jim Edgar, he told me about the former governor who is pro-choice. But on the other hand, Im pro-life. He also made no bones about the fact he was a backer of Judy Baar Topinka. Look at her record, he said. Shell get a lot of Democratic cross-over votes.
But Catholic pro-abort Topinka may have but she only got less than half of the Republican base which she alienated by playing her accordion at gay rights rallies, supporting abortion rights and refusing to back the proposed marriage amendment. Now shes gone, never to return: among the last of the pro-abort moderate Republican Mohicans.
And as Illinoisans look at the increasingly merging two party system into one Big Government party, they are slowly beginning to understand from looking at the nature of Carlyle just why Bob Kjellander is being protected by so many important people. Not long ago, former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald, a Catholic pro-lifer who was scorned by Kjellander and a group of moderate Republicans for opposing George Ryans deals, spoke in Chicago about his experiences trying to get an outsider appointed as U. S. Attorney here in order to break the Combine two-party hold over such appointments that favor easy prosecutors.
Fitzgerald said he House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, a Combine politician, put the pressure on the White House to block Fitzgerald from submitting a name that would be hostile to Combine Republicans and Democrats in Illinois, including Governor George Ryan, an old pal of Hasterts. Sen. Fitzgerald was called to the White House where Rove told the Senator that the White House would only stand for the Senator naming an Illinois lawyer for the post. Fitzgerald tried to find a qualified Illinois lawyer for the job who wasnt close to the Combine but couldnt. Instead he named on his ownwithout White House or Roves approvalPatrick Fitzgerald (no relation) who had no known associations with Chicago or Illinois. This outraged the White House and Dennis Hastert. It also prompted the newly-named GOP state chairman, Judy Baar Topinka, to refuse to endorse Fitzgerald for reelection when she appeared on my ABC radio program. From all indications, Karl Roves best friend, Bob Kjellander was working the highest levels of the federal government in opposition to Peter Fitzgeralds appointment of an outside prosecutor.
Kjellander gets along with Rove and the White House and with Democrats whom he serves. Democrats are pleased because he may provide interesting insights into GOP philosophy. Republicans are pleased because he gives huge contributions from earnings made by fees through service to Democratic interests. From the Bush administration there is not even the feeblest disclaimer of Kjellander. Kjellander appears to be every establishment Republican and Democrats boy.
Thats the way it has been. But maybe not for long.
Republican conservatives are determined to get Kjellander out of his Republican swivel-chair if it takes a derrick and block and tackle to do it.