CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Convicted felon Rod Blagojevich, who once tried to sell a seat in the U.S. Senate, has resorted to selling out for his endorsement for a seat on the Champaign County Board.
The silver-haired former governor who was forced out of his old job and into federal prison needed a new gig after President Trump let him out of jail six years early. So he fell back on his job experience of ‘pay to play’ politics.
Blagojevich recorded the video message on Cameo, an app to help washed up celebrities cash in on their fleeting sense of self-importance. You might not expect the word of a serial liar to be worth very much. In his case, Blagojevich’s words were worth $65 — but only as a gag.
“I basically just filled out a web form and he recorded the video,” said John Bambenek, the Republican prankster who fronted the money to needle a progressive Democratic woman running an insurgency campaign against the incumbent Democratic County Board Chairman.
Did any part of him feel dirty putting $65 in the pocket of the ex-governor convicted on 18 federal corruption charges?
“Yeah, a little bit,” Bambenek said.
“Hi Emily,” Blagojevich says in the video message. “I understand you’re running for your first political office on the Champaign County Board on a strong progressive platform. Good luck. Just remember: stick to your principles, believe deeply in the things that you’re fighting for, and never forget it’s all about the people.”
“I clicked on it, and it was so weird to hear his voice saying my name,” said Emily Rodriguez, a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois. “Because in my household growing up, Rod Blagojevich was like our boogeyman. He was everything my parents did not want their children to become.”
Were it a serious endorsement, she said she would’ve quickly dismissed it with a curt, “No thanks.”
Bambenek acknowledged no one would actually want an endorsement from Blagojevich, and described his stunt as “excessive parody.”
A woman who intends to vote for Rodriguez in her campaign to unseat Champaign County Board Chairman Giraldo Rosales sees the prank as a dirty trick done on Rosales’ behalf, and has filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The complaint, dated March 2, alleges that Bambenek has supported Rosales in his primary challenge, and that he should have included a “paid for by” disclaimer in the video he posted to his 35,000 Twitter followers.
As chairman of the County Board, Rosales, a Democrat, has an obligation to appoint someone to fill the vacant Treasurer position. Bambenek, a Republican, has expressed interest in running for that seat in November. Bambenek claims he did not coordinate the gag with Rosales, and that the $65 expense is below the reporting threshold. He also argues the satire is protected under his right to exercise political speech, and does not consider the video an ‘in-kind contribution’ to the Rosales campaign.
If the expense were to be filed with the State Board of Elections, it would not appear until the next reporting period, which is after the primary will have concluded.
Rosales could not be reached for comment.