Former senator Phil Gramm of Texas said Thursday that he never would have approved thousands of dollars in consulting fees to win an endorsement from fellow Republican George Ryan, a former Illinois governor charged with skimming money from state business.
"It's a difference between love and prostitution," Gramm said. "It's the same in ordinary life. You don't pay people to be your friends."
Gramm did not use precisely those words in front of the federal jury hearing evidence of public corruption against Ryan, on trial since September. After Gramm made his comments outside the jury's presence, U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer made him tone down his remarks.
The new phrasing was hardly more friendly to Ryan, 71, best known before the trial for commuting the death sentences of 167 inmates in 2003.
Gramm said he was endorsed by "thousands" of elected officials but did not pay for such support.
"It's never happened," said Gramm, who bowed out of the 1996 race long before the Republican convention. He retired from the Senate and is now an investment banker. "With friendship or support, it's not something you buy. It's something you earn for who you are and what you stand for."
Ryan aides have testified that their former boss, who was Illinois secretary of state at the time, saw the Gramm campaign as a way to line the pocket of his lieutenants and his family. Richard Juliano told the jury that Ryan told him they should bill the Gramm campaign "so some people can make money."
Before Gramm's campaign cratered, prosecutors charge, Ryan and two aides split $30,000, funneling it through a Morton Grove, Ill., company. Ryan reportedly passed along his share to his four daughters, who had played no role in the campaign.
On Wednesday, former Gramm aide John Weaver told the jury that he met Juliano and Ryan aide Scott Fawell at a Chicago sports bar in March 1995 and discussed Juliano's proposed Illinois budget, which included $11,500 a month for nine months for unidentified consultants.
Weaver said he was surprised by the amount, but Fawell -- who has since pleaded guilty and testified against Ryan -- had an explanation.
"This is the way we do things in Chicago. You have to understand this is the way we're going to do it," Fawell said, according to Weaver, a politics veteran who is currently a top strategist for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) The Gramm campaign said it had no idea where the payments to consultants went, and there is no suggestion that the campaign did anything improper. Prosecutors called the former senator to persuade the jury that Ryan's arrangement was part of an unsavory pattern, and that he lied to the Internal Revenue Service about it.
Ryan, who stands accused of illegally steering business to his friends for more than a decade, said he is "absolutely not guilty." Defense attorney Dan Webb told Pallmeyer on Thursday that Ryan will testify in his own defense before the trial ends early next year.
Gramm's appearance provided a few light moments in a case full of contracts and memos. Gramm, who spent 24 years in Congress and the Senate, explained how endorsements are part of everyone's campaign strategy, although he added that "probably endorsements aren't what they're cracked up to be."