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McCain Camp Launches October ‘Surprise’

In what appears to be an attempt to gin up an “October Surprise,” the McCain campaign teamed up with the American Conservative Union today to make a campaign issue of Sen. Barack Obama’s ties to convicted Chicago real estate developer Tony Rezko.

The ACU quietly filed a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee — the group’s Website features no mention of the action — against the Democratic presidential nominee. From The Boston Globe:

Rezko was convicted in June on federal corruption charges not involving Obama. But Republicans have been saying there’s something fishy about the 2005 deal for Obama’s home in Chicago.

He paid $300,000 less than the asking price for the Victorian, on the same day Rezko’s wife bought a vacant lot next door for the full asking price. Obama has said that was a “boneheaded” move. But independent fact-checking groups have concluded that there’s no proof that Obama was involved in any wrongdoing.

Still, the American Conservative Union filed a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee today alleging that Obama’s home purchase violated the Senate’s gift ban. In the letter to the Ethics Committee, ACU Chairman David Keene said that “sufficient information exists to demonstrate that Sen. Obama solicited, received, and accepted a gift greater than $50 from Mr. and Mrs. Rezko, and Sen. Obama failed to disclose this gift.”

Right on cue, the McCain campaign held a conference call with reporters that featured former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who was a colleague of Obama’s for two years in the Illinois Senate, and Ed O’Callahan, a former federal prosecutor in New York.

During the call, the participants wanted to know why Obama has never answered questions from the media about the matter, while acknowledging Obama did answer questions about the matter from The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times in March.

O’Callahan, clearly reading a script, veered off-topic into McCain campaign talking points:

“Obama needs to come clean on this deal before the election, so that voters can judge whether Obama received monetary benefits from these Rezko favors.

Since the Democrats took control of Congress only two years ago, they have driven our economy into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. What’s their solution to the problem? To spread more of our wealth around by giving it to those who don’t pay a single penny of federal income tax. With friends and priorities like these, Barack Obama and his Democrat allies lack the judgment to lead our country.”

Fitzgerald and O’Callahan had taken just one question from the reporters before the call was abruptly ended.

I’ve sat in on dozens of these conference calls, and I’m pretty sure this is a record for fewest questions allowed from reporters.

The obvious question is: If this is such an important controversy, why did the ACU wait until five days before the presidential election to file its complaint?

With no new information being offered, the complaint appears to be a stunt aimed at influencing the election. However, if this is what the McCain campaign has been holding up its sleeve, to be sprung at the last moment, it doesn’t look like Obama has much to fear from this year’s October surprise.

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