Story of Chicagoan Carol Moseley-Braun

George Will is a syndicated columnist and political writer with the Washington Post.
By George Will
Published September 6, 1998

CHICAGO--Polls are pointing toward what a poet has called the rare occurrence of the expected. Chicagoan Carol Moseley-Braun, 51, the first and only African American woman senator, may be defeated.

Her opponent, Peter Fitzgerald, 37, is a conservative state senator from the Chicago suburbs, which cast about 40 percent of the state's vote. He is already even or ahead in some polls. He spent $7 million of his own money, from a family banking fortune, in winning the primary and has more money in his checking account, not to mention his campaign fund, than Moseley-Braun's campaign has.

In 1992 she won 53 percent of the vote against a Republican candidate who was weak even before he decided it would be a good idea to reverse himself on abortion, becoming pro-choice on the eve of the announcement of his candidacy. She won even though it was revealed that in 1989 she and her siblings split a $28,750 inheritance that was supposed to go to her mother, a nursing home resident who was supposed to use the money to reimburse Medicaid.

Chicago Democrats survive their scandals by multiplying them, hoping the unbroken monotony of misdeeds will anesthetize the public. But Moseley-Braun may have overdone it even after some notable campaign finance excesses in 1992.

  Peter Fitzgerald - United States Senator from Illinois    United States Senator Carol Moseley Braun

Predictably, Janet Reno's politicized Justice Department has twice refused IRS requests to impanel grand juries to hear evidence about Moseley-Braun. One would concern possible bank fraud, bribery and other federal crimes from when she was Cook County Recorder of Deeds. The other would involve allegations that she and Kgosie Matthews, her former campaign manager and former fiance, may have diverted $281,000 in campaign contributions to personal consumption, such as (according to a WBBM-TV report in July) almost $70,000 on clothes, $64,000 on travel (Hawaii, Europe, Africa), $25,000 for two Jeeps, $12,000 for stereo equipment, $18,000 for jewelry (she and he spent almost $10,000 in cash at an Aspen jewelry store during a fund-raising trip).

A former federal prosecutor and tax-law expert told WBBM that in 28 years of experience he had never heard of Justice refusing "when you have the Internal Revenue Service as an institution making a request to the Justice Department for grand jury authorization." "Never," said a former IRS supervisor when WBBM asked if he had ever seen a precedent for such refusal.

Matthews has been a lobbyist for the Nigerian government. On one of Moseley-Braun's many visits to Nigeria, she met with the blood-soaked dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, who died in June. In 1996 she disagreed with the Congressional Black Caucus by opposing sanctions against Nigeria. WBBM says the IRS is asking for a grand jury to investigate Matthews for conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. He owes $250,000 to a travel agency, and no longer lives in the United States.

The conventional wisdom here is that the crucial swing vote is middle-class suburban women, with whom Fitzgerald's pro-life position will be a problem. But on primary night, while Moseley-Braun was warming up her crowd with warnings that pro-life politicians are menaces to womanhood, the gubernatorial primary produced a Democratic nominee, downstate congressman Glenn Poshard, who is pro-life.

Fitzgerald dryly suggested that Moseley-Braun have a debate with Poshard. Democrats are hoping for synergy, with Moseley-Braun helping Poshard in Chicago and he helping her downstate.

Fitzgerald has to heal a Republican Party divided by the primary fight in which Gov. Jim Edgar and most of the Republican establishment, with the help of Bob Dole, supported Fitzgerald's opponent, Loleta Didrickson, the state comptroller, who is pro-choice. It is a measure of the establishment's skittishness and disconnection from reality that it is alarmed by Fitzgerald, whose right-to-life position is, says political analyst Charles Cook, shared by "the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress." The fact that both the candidates for governor (the GOP nominee is Secretary of State George Ryan) and Fitzgerald are pro-life may take the abortion issue off the table. If the issue is argued in terms of who opposes partial-birth abortions, Fitzgerald, not Moseley-Braun, will speak for the Illinois majority.

In presidential politics Illinois is the bellwether state, having voted with the winner in all but two elections in this century. (It voted for Republicans Charles Evans Hughes in 1916 and Gerald Ford in 1976.) This year Illinois is central to Republicans' hope of gaining the five Senate seats necessary for a filibuster-proof majority of 60. That is not yet expected, but Illinois' contribution to it may soon be rated probable.

Peter Fitzgerald - United States Senator from Illinois   Illinois Comptroller Loleta Didrickson



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FAIR USE NOTICE: This newspaper article, written in 1998 by syndicated columnist George Will, is provided for non-profit and educational purposes, in accordance with Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

Note: In response to this column, Senator Moseley-Braun called the writer a racist, comparing him to a KKK member, and said that when he used the word "corrupt," George Will actually wanted to say "ni----." As you can see, the word corrupt is nowhere in this article - though it would certainly be appropriate!!

(Moseley-Braun apologized shortly thereafter.  She went on to lose her seat to Republican Peter Fitzgerald.)