Published November 17, 2014
Rod Blagojevich surely hopes talk is anything but cheap.
Faced with a campaign war chest that's empty of the $2.7 million it held before his lawyers got paid to defend him on corruption charges, the ousted governor who complained about being broke — on tape, thanks to the FBI — when he had a job now must find a way to make money as he prepares for another expensive trial.
And that likely means doing what he did before, when he hit the media circuit and talked to listeners on his own radio show, David Letterman's viewers on his late-night program and Donald Trump on his reality series — right up until Trump fired him.
"We had several projects in limbo (because of the trial) and we are definitely going to pursue them," Glenn Selig, Blagojevich's publicist, said Wednesday. "He clearly needs to earn a living."
Selig wouldn't say what those projects might be for the former governor, who prosecutors said will stand trial again after jurors deadlocked on 23 felony counts including allegations that he tried to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's Senate seat. Blagojevich was heard on wiretap tapes saying the power to name a senator was "(expletive) golden" and he wasn't going to give it up "for (expletive) nothing."
The way Selig sees it, a single felony conviction for lying to the FBI is not the kind of thing that should prevent Blagojevich from making money.
"This is the same charge or a similar charge to what Martha Stewart was convicted of and Martha Stewart has done pretty well for herself," Selig said of the homemaking diva who went back to being a media star after being convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and, like Blagojevich, making false statements to federal authorities.
Blagojevich may be under pressure to make Martha Stewart-type money if he hopes to show up in court again with the same troop of lawyers.
"They exhausted the funds," said Michael Dobbins, clerk of the U.S. District Court, whose office distributes the money from Blagojevich's campaign fund and who said the final check was cut days ago.
That could mean Blagojevich's attorneys would have to be paid as public defenders through tax dollars — at a rate of around $100 an hour, said one of his attorneys, Sheldon Sorosky. And that, said Sorosky, may prompt the judge to try to cut the number of people on the legal staff.
Selig said one option for Blagojevich might be a program in which he talks about current issues the way Eliot Spitzer has done since a prostitution scandal forced him to resign as governor of New York.
"He's done commentary on news programs talking about issues unrelated to his own," Selig said of Blagojevich. "The camera seems to really like him and I think the public has really enjoyed hearing from him and he would make a terrific host."
But it took Spitzer two years to re-emerge since his resignation, and his scandals were eclipsed a bit over that time by ethics charges that dogged his successor. Moreover, Blagojevich found it difficult to get much done in Illinois, where he often clashed with lawmakers. And during his trial, former aides testified that he sometimes hid in the bathroom and rarely worked on state business.
Selig also said that the world of reality TV that Blagojevich's wife visited — appearing on a show and famously eating a tarantula — may also be in his future.
That sounds more like it, according to at least one expert.
"He's sort of a quirky character, in a way, and reality TV loves that kind of person," said Patty Williamson, an associate professor at Central Michigan University who has studied reality television and teaches media criticism.
"He was on the top of his career and he fell and unfortunately ... we like to see people who have been successful take a fall and a lot of reality television markets itself on that premise."
Chicago is the kind of place where media opportunities don't dry up just because of a run in with the law. Blagojevich himself found that out when he landed a radio program before his trial.
So did Jim Laski. The former Chicago city clerk, who spent 11 months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2006 to taking bribes, now hosts his own radio program.
But it's no sure thing that "Blago" will join "Snooki" among the current nicknamed reality stars. Laski said Blagojevich might have problems finding work because prosecutors say they are already preparing for another trial.
"He's kind of in purgatory, limbo," said Laski, who pointed out that WLS-AM radio put Blagojevich's show on hiatus until after his corruption trial.
Now, he said, "I don't know who would want to hire him in broadcasting (because) his retrial is on the horizon."
Not only that, but when Blagojevich wanted to go to Costa Rica before the trial to appear on "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here" — the show his wife Patti appeared on — Judge James B. Zagel wouldn't let him leave the country. That has Laski wondering if the judge might prevent him from taking advantage of media opportunities out of concern about tainting the jury pool.
Not an hour after the jury's verdict Tuesday, Blagojevich's lead attorney, Sam Adam Jr., said at a news conference that he hoped his audience included potential jurors.
"He might clamp down," Laski said of Zagel.
Associated Press Writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.