Kadner: Jackson’s spending and corruption
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 15, 2013 11:20PM
Jesse Jackson Jr.
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:50AM
Elk heads. Jesse Jackson Jr. dipped into his campaign fund to purchase two elk heads from a taxidermist in Montana.
Federal charges filed Friday against the former congressman allege that Jackson spent $750,000 from his campaign fund on things such as fur capes and caps, hats once worn by Michael Jackson, memorabilia that belonged to martial arts legend Bruce Lee and civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and a $43,350 man’s Rolex watch.
All of that is stupid, excessive and criminal.
But elk heads?
Jackson had three elk heads mounted on his Washington, D.C., office wall. He shot one himself on a hunting trip.
Did he think he was Teddy Roosevelt?
It conjures images of the looney “Teddy” character from “Arsenic and Old Lace” running up the stairs shouting “Charge!”
Jackson has been treated for months for depression related to a personality disorder at the Mayo Clinic, but those who contend that was merely a ploy in his legal battle with the federal government have plenty of ammunition to defend that position today.
Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District includes some of the poorest communities in the state.
Jackson could have used that campaign cash to help his constituents ward off home foreclosure. He could have purchased food and clothes for the homeless. He could have selected 75 students and given them scholarships to the best colleges in the country.
All of that would likely have violated federal campaign finance laws. But would any prosecutor have dared to file charges?
Well, it doesn’t matter because Jackson was no Robin Hood, taking money from the wealthy to help the needy. It was all about him, his wife, former Chicago Ald. Sandi Jackson, and his two children.
He bought lavish dinners on a campaign credit card, purchased children’s furniture for his home and paid for his children’s tuition.
Jackson was always aware that any mistake he made, any slip, would be jumped on gleefully by critics of his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Well, those folks are certainly celebrating today.
Jackson is not accused of using public funds to enrich himself.
That’s about the only thing he hasn’t been accused of in the last few years.
A close friend of his was accused by the federal government of offering several million dollars for the campaign fund of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to buy the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Jackson has always denied that charge.
But that same friend, Indian-American businessman Ragu Nayak, did buy round-trip tickets for Jackson’s girlfriend to fly between Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
Jackson denied that she was his girlfriend, calling her a “social acquaintance,” but did not deny that Nayak paid for her air travel at Jackson’s direction.
Jackson was never charged in the Blagojevich pay-to-play scheme, a fact he was proud of repeating.
As for all the campaign money that comes into a congressman’s fund, that’s bribery, but it’s not a crime.
It was perfectly legal for Jackson to use about $250,000 of that cash to hire his wife as his campaign treasurer, even if Jackson never faced a real challenge during his 17 years in office until last year.
Sandi Jackson’s crime is apparently failing to report to the IRS some of the money and gifts she received from the campaign fund.
As for Jackson’s lavish lifestyle, which apparently he could not afford on the couple’s combined salary of nearly $300,000 (not including Sandi’s pay from the campaign fund), he often told me he could make millions in the private sector.
He was frustrated by petty political bickering, locally and on the national level, that made it seem impossible to accomplish anything of consequence. He was underpaid and unappreciated.
Well, millions of American workers feel the same way, and they make a whole lot less than the $175,000 base salary of a congressman.
In a statement released by Jackson through the law firm that is representing him, he stated: “Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made.
“To that end, I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment, and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”
I’m reminded of a crooked suburban police chief who became a bag man for the mob, conspired to murder a woman and asked a judge to be lenient because he was a good father.
Any good Jackson did was obliterated by his vanity, conceit and selfishness. He had an opportunity to help the less privileged, but he squandered it.
That’s the real crime here.
People who cackle and rejoice over the downfall of the Jacksons and their out-of-control spending couldn’t care less about what this really means.
It’s another tragedy for those who needed the democratic process the most to work for them.
That’s the price of political corruption.
It’s a damn shame.
And now Jackson’s head will have a place of honor on some prosecutor’s office wall.