By NEDRA PICKLER
The Associated Press
Friday, June 8, 2007; 8:53 PM
WASHINGTON -- Presidential candidate Barack Obama will give $16,500 in contributions linked to an indicted donor to charity, part of the Democrat's effort to distance himself from a former friend and fundraiser.
The donations came from two Chicago businessmen who worked with indicted entrepreneur Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the one-time Obama friend.
Rezko has pleaded not guilty to charges that he shook down investment firms that wanted to do business with the state of Illinois. Obama last year gave charities $11,500 to clear his campaign fund of donations that had come directly from Rezko.
Obama's campaign has said it was donating to charity a $5,000 donation from Ali Ata, the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority who was charged last week with trying to help Rezko borrow $10 million in loans.
Obama is now donating $10,000 from Joseph Aramanda, who has overseen Rezko pizza franchises involved in the investigation, and $6,500 from Dr. Paul Ray, the chairman of the urology department division of Cook County's Stroger Hospital. Aramanda and Ray have not been charged with any crimes.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Friday that the Illinois senator did not personally know Ata, Aramanda or Ray. Obama had hired Aramanda's son as a 2005 summer intern in his Senate office after Rezko recommended the intern.
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and actor, will travel to New Hampshire and South Carolina at the end of June, state officials said Friday.
The visits to the two early primary states come as Thompson prepares for what is widely expected to be a full-fledged presidential campaign. He has formed a preliminary campaign committee and is raising money as he considers a bid.
State officials said Thompson will visit South Carolina on June 27 for a state GOP fundraiser and New Hampshire on June 28 for a state Senate Republican PAC fundraiser.
Thompson served in the Senate from 1994-2003 and has been an actor on NBC's drama "Law & Order."
ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) _ Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said Friday he would enjoy debating the eventual Republican nominee _ if he won his party's nomination.
"The first thing I would say would be ... If you like what's happened in Iraq, you should vote for this guy. They'll give you four more years of it," Edwards said during a stop in New Hampshire. "If you don't like what's happened in Iraq, if you want to see a change, then you should vote for me."
He said Republicans have lost the monopoly on national security.
"Do you think George Bush made you safer? All this chest thumping?" Edwards said. "These guys are going to continue this. We need to be aggressive, but we also need to be smart. We need to not just thump our chest."
Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, was on a two-day campaign swing through the early primary state.
Edwards celebrates his 54th birthday on Sunday, and the party planned has all the North Carolina charm: a pig roast, pie and Dean Smith.
The legendary former University of North Carolina basketball coach said he will attend Edwards' party, calling him "the best person to lead this country."
"John's ideals are ones that are close to my heart and ones that I've fought for all my life," Smith wrote in a letter to Edwards supporters. "I support John Edwards because he has worked on issues that matter _ ones that I really care about _ like poverty and ending the war in Iraq."
Entrance to Edwards' birthday party, being held at the Best Western University Inn in Chapel Hill, will cost $15.
In addition to the party, every person who contributes more than $6.10 (mimicking Edwards' birth date) to the campaign before Sunday will receive a pecan pie recipe from Edwards' mom, Bobbie. A week after Bobbie Edwards proposed the recipe reward, more than 8,400 people have donated more than $200,000 to the campaign, according to an online tally.
Smith has already donated $4,200 _ the maximum _ to Edwards' campaign, according to campaign finance records.
Edwards earned a law degree from UNC Chapel Hill in 1977.
Associated Press Writers Mike Glover in Johnston, Iowa, and Philip Elliott in Rochester, N.H., contributed to this report.