The mission statement of the United States Department of Justice includes the words “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” In Fundraiser A: My Fight for Freedom and Justice, Nashvillian Robert Blagojevich takes issue with that idealized view. Blagojevich was indicted and tried by the federal government, and his journey through the looking-glass world of investigators, prosecutors, judges, juries, and media left him bitter but emboldened. He has continued to fight back, long after winning his own battle against a system he believes has gone terribly wrong. Fundraiser A is both a testament to his own innocence and an indictment of those who indicted him.
Rod Blagojevich, Robert’s brother, was the fortieth governor of Illinois. Scandal roiled around the Democrat, as it had for both Republican and Democratic governors before him—Illinois politics are infamous for back-room deals and outright corruption—and a federal investigation led to Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment and removal from office in January 2009. He was indicted in April of that year on old-fashioned corruption charges: selling political favors. In this case, one of the favors he allegedly sold was an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by Barack Obama.
Robert Blagojevich was also indicted, accused of helping to arrange the senate-seat deal as part of his own fundraising activities. “Fundraiser A” was Robert’s designation in the warrant for his brother’s arrest. By his own description, Robert was “a businessman from Nashville with no experience in politics who responded to his brother’s request for help in raising campaign funds. Total time on the job: four months!” During that time, Robert corralled almost three quarters of a million dollars in donations. It would cost him about that much of his own money to fight the indictment.
Fundraiser A is primarily a memoir about these events, and it reads like a personal defense. Blagojevich repeatedly describes his fundraising efforts as legitimate, noting that he sometimes had to rebuff inappropriate offers or demands for quid pro quos. He also goes to some trouble to distance himself from his brother, describing a strained relationship and troubles that began before he ever went to work for Friends of Blagojevich. But blood is thicker than water—enough so that Robert, a Republican, found himself raising money for a liberal Democrat. And Robert is careful not to accuse Rod of anything worse than galling behavior and indifference to his sibling’s legal troubles. (A pending appeal of the ex-governor’s sentence likely accounts for some of the book’s resounding silence on that score.)
Still, Fundraiser A is more than simply a memoir. It is, at its best, a self-help manual for the wrongly accused. In the chapter titled “The Toll,” Blagojevich describes in detail what it means to fight the federal government. It is more than daunting; it is Sisyphean. Almost no one who chooses to fight a federal indictment wins; the deck is stacked in favor of the prosecutors, who have time, money, and many of the rules on their side. Blagojevich had to prepare his finances, his body, his mind, and his family for the battle, all while preparing evidence for a trial expected to last months. It is clearly a task for which great financial, familial, and mental resources are needed. He was lucky to have a successful business, a supportive family, and an iron constitution—forged in part by military service—that enabled him to persevere. Lacking any one of those assets, he makes clear, he would have lost everything. At one point during the ordeal, his wife asked him, “Would you rather be indicted or have your arm cut off?” Without too much deliberation, he decided the arm would have to go.
In the end, Blagojevich won, though he did so without an acquittal: after his trial ended in a hung jury, prosecutors simply decided that it was no longer worthwhile to attack the brother of their real target. Robert believes, with good evidence, that the pressure on him was designed mostly to get to Rod, and this aspect of the case is one of the most disturbing. According to Blagojevich, Fundraiser A is intended in part as a warning of what can happen when the federal government goes after an innocent person. He writes, “I remain frustrated and angry about how I was gratuitously used by my government to serve its agenda. This experience has forever changed my once unwavering, naïve belief that we live under a system of laws that serve the greater good.”
A Michigan native, Chris Scott is an unrepentant Yankee who arrived in Nashville twenty-five years ago and has gradually adapted to Southern ways. He is a geologist by profession and an historian by avocation.