BY ADEYEMI OSHUNRINADE
February 22, 2013
Once a powerful Congressman from Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr. a Democrat, won reelection to Congress in 2012, despite allegations of campaign fund misappropriation and his health. The Congressman and his wife Sandra Stevens Jackson pleaded guilty to Federal charges related to years of using $750,000 in campaign funds for personal gains.
“I used monies that should have been used for campaign purposes,” Jackson, 47 said. The sitting Judge Robert Wilkins, asked if he realized the guilty plea meant giving up his right to trial, Jackson said: “I’ve no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or money.” It is the case of a politician behaving badly, an abuse of public trust and a shock to those who supported the Congressman throughout his career as a politician.
The fact he made a one time mistake is not the issue. His problem, the dishonesty went on for seven years, time enough to believe his actions were intentional and with a purpose to convert campaign monies for personal use. It is unfathomable that in a democracy considered a model for others in the world, a politician in his caliber would consider defrauding the public for personal satisfaction.
At a separate hearing, his wife and former Chicago Alderman Sandra Jackson, 49, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns linked to her husband’ misuse of campaign funds. The charge stated failure to declare more than $600,000 in income from 2005 to 2011, money investigators believe came from campaign donations. She wept as the Judge set her sentencing for July, when she could get up to three years in prison.
The Congressman could get up to five years in prison plus fine, when finally sentenced this summer. “The guilty plea today is so tragic because it represents such wasted potential. Jesse Jackson Jr. had driven the ability and the talent to be the voice of a new generation, but he squandered that talent. He exchanged that instead to satisfy his personal whims and extravagant lifestyle,” U.S. Attorney General Ronald Machen, said.
Jackson and his wife did not contest allegations of campaign fund irregularities. Both admitted to mistakes in judgment for illegal expenditures in campaign contributions however, what drove the couple to the edge of diverting campaign donations for personal luxury items, is a matter for deliberation. Machen indicated that the Congressman’ actions, could be due to his recent mental illness. But the fact the scheme went on for seven years, would make his actions disputable as a byproduct of any existing medical condition.
Based on evidence, Jackson charged campaign credit card to buy $582,772 in personal items. He purchased a Rolex watch costing more than $43,000 and $10,000 worth of children’s furniture. Other items include two hats from the late Michael Jackson costing more than $8,000; a $5,000 football signed by U.S. Presidents and memorabilia of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bruce Lee, were also acquired with campaign money.
Other inappropriate spending include a five-day stay at Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat costing $5,687.75, a $4,272.78 charged to campaign credit card for cruise expenses and a $5,150 fur capes and parkas, purchased by his wife with campaign money. “I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made,” Jackson said through his attorney.
While there is no past allegation of corruption against Jackson, it is not the first time the Congressman has been a subject of investigation. In the case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor got arrested and investigated for attempting to sell U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Jackson’s name came up as a participant, when allegations turned up he tried to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for Obama’ Senate seat.
No charges got filed against Jackson though, the House Ethics Committee indicated it would look into whether the Congressman or an associate, offered to raise money for the jailed Gov. in exchange for a Senate seat. The latest development could mean an end to the political aspirations of one of America’ known political dynasty. While the Public may have forgiven the Congressman over the Blagojevich’ case, it is unlikely people will offer a second chance considering nature of his crime and fact, this is a case of corruption involving a trusted politician.
There is no question greed is the reason. Jackson and his wife chose to live beyond their means and to satisfy a life of luxury they turned to public donations and money given to support his campaign. Perhaps other politicians can learn from his mistakes but this would not be the last. American politicians are consistently caught in ethical issues, allegations of adultery, bribery, illegal gifts and soliciting prostitute are becoming rampant and the political structure respected around the world, is fast becoming riddled with corruption. Unless elected officials get their acts together, it won’t take long before public trust is completely lost.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is the author of ‘Wills Law and Contests,’ ‘Constitutional Law-First Amendment’ and ‘SAVING LOVE’ available at http://www.amazon.com/author/adeyemioshunrinade. Follow on Twitter @san0670.