Rod Blagojevich has finally found a way to make money off his governorship.
Twelve years ago, he failed to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. He also failed to extract a $50,000 campaign contribution from a children’s hospital.
After getting out of prison, the ex-con said his first order of business was finding a way to provide for his family. His court supervision requires him to work. So in just the last week, Blagojevich has recorded 219 videos for Cameo, the celebrity greeting site, at a rate of between $65 and $115 each.
That's between $14,235 and $25,185 before Cameo's 25 percent cut. You can book him here.
Cameo founder Steven Galanis says some of the site’s talents earn in the “mid-six figures” each year. While not predicting that for Blagojevich, he says the ex-governor has been a hit so far. He’s telegenic, and he works hard to personalize his greetings. For instance, he told a local Minnesota Vikings fan that “he should have photos of Dick Butkus on his wall.”
“We saw above average demand for him,” Galanis said. “The former governor mirrors a lot of what makes other people successful on Cameo. He’s good in front of the camera, he’s got a big personality. He was a reality TV star. Our best vertical is reality TV stars.”
Blagojevich is currently the only politician offering greetings on Cameo. But Galanis thinks the platform could revolutionize political fundraising, by allowing candidates to sell personal interactions for far less money than the tens of thousands of dollars they currently charge for private dinners, receptions, and photographs.
There’s a saying that a celebrity is a person whose name is worth more than his services. Cameo, so far, has a reputation as a place where athletes and actors whose performances are no longer in demand can profit from their lingering fame. Dennis Rodman will record a greeting for $350, even though Rodman was always better known for his antics than his utterances. Barry Williams, who played Greg on The Brady Bunch, will say hi for $150.
Blagojevich is no ordinary ex-politician. He’s better known for the way he left office — impeached, then convicted — than for anything he did in office. Is Cameo giving him a platform to profit from the notoriety he accrued through criminal behavior?
Galanis says no.
“This is America, and people deserve second chances,” he says, adding,“there’s plenty of other politicians and governors that have gotten into trouble. Notoriety is not enough to make it on Cameo.”
That may be true, but governors who performed their jobs competently and honorably wouldn't be raking it in like Blagojevich. In the currency of celebrity, being famous counts more than how you became famous.
“I cannot say that Governor [Jim] Edgar is more boring or less boring than Rod,” Galanis said.
But I can: Governor Edgar is indisputably more boring than Rod. He is also more boring than an instructional video on assembling furniture. He would be terrible on Cameo.
Unsurprisingly, Blagojevich’s Cameo greetings are already causing trouble. In Champaign County, a Republican prankster paid Blagojevich $65 to endorse a Democratic candidate challenging the incumbent county board chair in the primary. Emily Rodriguez, the “beneficiary” of Blago’s endorsement, was dismayed to hear her name coming out of the mouth of a politician she considers “a boogeyman.” One of Rodriguez’s supporters has filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections. Galanis was unaware of the controversy, but said “the talent can accept or decline any request.” Only nudity, hate speech, or incitement to violence are prohibited.
Now that Galanis has Blago, he’s thinking about what Cameo can do for other politicians. He says he was approached by a couple Democratic presidential candidates who are no longer in the race. Galanis worked as a body man for former state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, and saw how the candidate spent all his car time calling and thanking supporters. Cameo could help politicians reach those followers in a more personal — and lucrative — way.
“Obama would be unbelievable on this,” said Galanis, who thinks the ex-president could use Cameo to raise money for the Obama Center. “If Obama came on here tomorrow, he’d be the biggest booked celebrity on here.”
Politicians get paid to give speeches and write books. They sell access to themselves at fundraisers. Why not make money off personal greetings? Right now, Cameo has an image as a haven for C-list celebrities scuffling for rent money. TV was once considered a low-rent medium, but nowadays, everyone wants to be on television.
Rod Blagojevich went on Cameo because he’s desperate for money, but he may turn out to be a pioneer.