Rod Blagojevich (left) marches with Raghuveer Nayak during an Indian Independence Day parade in Chicago. (AP file picture)
Chicago, Dec. 15: An Indian American businessman has been caught up in the investigation of Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Barack Obamas Senate seat, amid reports he offered to raise money in favour of an aspirant to the seat.
State and federal records, however, show that Raghuveer Nayak, 54, has been a regular donor to the campaigns of other politicians, including President-elect Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Federal investigators say they are probing whether Nayak sought to raise $1 million for Blagojevich in exchange for the now-arrested governor appointing Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr to the Senate seat.
Nayak, who became wealthy running pharmacies and then surgical centres in Illinois and Indiana, and his wife Anita have donated nearly $17,000 to Obamas campaigns since 2003, state records show. Friends and associates say Nayak raised thousands more in the Indian American community here for Obama in his 2004 Senate race.
They also say that one of Obamas close friends, Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, showed Nayaks teenage son around New Hampshire at the time of the presidential primary early this year.
As a representative of an Indian American business community that has been gaining influence in the country, Nayak has taken a bipartisan approach to his donations nationally.
He and his wife contributed $6,600 this year to McCains presidential campaign and $6,000 to the campaign of Hillary. He also donated $2,000 to Bushs campaign in 2004.
But Nayak has lavished most of his largesse on Blagojevich and other Illinois political leaders, including Jackson Jr and some rivals of the governor who are now pressing him to resign. He has given more than $200,000 to Blagojevichs campaigns and at least $22,000 to those of Jackson Jr.
Nayak has been a supporter of Operation PUSH, the community group run by Jackson Jrs father, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. The Indian American businessman accompanied the elder Jackson on a trip to India this year.
Nayak has not returned phone calls seeking comment; Jackson Jr has said he never authorised anyone to try to strike a deal with Blagojevich over the seat. A lawyer for Blagojevich has said the governor committed no wrong.
Friends describe Nayak as an unassuming man who wanted to help the Indian-American community gain influence and say he is distraught by the turn of events.
His surgical centres are meant to offer a cheaper alternative to hospital procedures, and critics have suggested he might have used his political connections to secure locations for some of them. State records show he once owned part of a drug-testing laboratory that had millions of dollars in state public aid contracts.
Nayaks name first surfaced in the Blagojevich investigation last week. The Chicago Tribune reported that the governor appeared at an October 31 luncheon at which Nayak and another Indian American leader told guests they needed to raise $1 million to support Jacksons bid for the Senate. Nayak then helped organise a fund-raising event for Blagojevich on December 6, and both the governor and Jackson Jrs brother Jonathan were there.
The revelations closely parallel a sequence of events laid out in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich. The complaint quotes the governor as saying in wire-tapped conversations that he was giving greater consideration to a Senate candidate — since identified as Jackson Jr — whose supporters had offered to raise substantial campaign financing for Blagojevich.
While Blagojevich and Jackson are not personally close, Nayak is one of the few people who have been a major fund-raiser for both.
Nayak has also made political donations to Pat Quinn, the Illinois lieutenant governor who would become governor if Blagojevich resigns, and state attorney-general Lisa Madigan, who is leading the fight to oust Blagojevich.
Nayaks surgical company also gave $12,000 to Giannouliass campaign for state treasurer. Giannoulias and Obama play basketball together.
A spokesperson for Obama confirmed yesterday that Giannoulias had shown Nayaks son, who was a high-school volunteer for Obama during the presidential race, around New Hampshire in January.