Mark Kirk, Alexi Giannoulias
Mark Kirk, left, and Alexi Giannoulias


So Alexi Giannoulias demands that Mark Kirk, his Republican opponent in U.S. Senate race, return the thousands he has received from Goldman Sachs. The firm was just charged with civil fraud for allegedly misleading investors on a mortgage instrument that went south with the housing market.

Giannoulias blasted Kirk for taking $54,010 from the banking giant. Kirk agreed to return the $20,500 received “from Goldman employees from this cycle,” but not the rest of it received since 2000, according to his spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. (Kukowski noted that Kirk “made a personal decision to go above and beyond the reasonable ethics standard.”)

I wonder if it occurred to Giannoulias that getting all up-in-arms about banks and political contributions might not be his best strategy, given that his political career was made possible by his family’s Broadway Bank, which lost $75.3 million in 2009 and could be shut down by the feds any day now. (Or perhaps the campaign thought it would be a good idea to bring up Goldman to fight one bank charge against another.)

In Giannoulias’s 2006 race for state treasurer, his family’s beneficence bought the TV ads that boasted his banking experience and handed him the win. That time out, the political novice got $3.1 million in donations and loans from his relatives, including a $1.4-million loan from his mother, not to mention thousands of dollars from bank customers who received big loans from Broadway. (He gave the latter back.)

Giannoulias, who worked at Broadway for four years and acquired the titles senior loan officer and vice president, is keeping as much distance as he can from the bank, founded in 1978 by his late father and now run by his older brother. But he can’t distance himself from loans to Tony Rezko, and, even worse, to Michael “Jaws” Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter.

One of Kirk’s most lethal weapons in the campaign (and debates) will be the question, “If you were such a big deal at your father’s bank, why didn’t you know about those smelly loans?” Giannoulias’s claim that he merely handled the paperwork doesn’t help him. Was he a key executive or a glorified clerk? Neither answer is a winner. Watch for Kirk to scream “Broadway” every time Giannoulias screams “Goldman.” 

Still, I have a hunch that Giannoulias could have the last scream—in the form of a victory hoot on Nov. 2nd. Media chatter about Alexi being maneuvered out of the Senate race in favor of another Democrat (such as Attorney General Lisa Madigan) has died down. In the treasurer’s race four years ago, Giannoulias tempered his responses to questions about Giorango and resisted pressure to withdraw. In the Democratic primary in that race, he had to beat the slated candidate of Democratic kingpin Mike Madigan. Alexi then went on to win in the general—still without Madigan’s endorsement—against Christine Radogno, a respected Republican with a decade of experience in the state Senate and proven expertise on budget matters. 

In the current race, Giannoulias must be delighted that Kirk is spouting the Republican line about why he won’t support the Democrats’ proposed financial regulatory reform: The bill’s $50-billion fund, the GOP candidate argues, will be used for endless bailouts of banks. With his own ties to Goldman Sachs, Kirk could end up appearing to be in bed with the titans of Wall Street, and that romance won’t win him many votes on Main Street.

A staffer for Giannoulias’s campaign said she’d pass along my request for an interview, but I’ve heard nothing by post time.


Photography: (Kirk) Flickr photo / weareillinois photostream; (Giannoulias)