Jackson caught in ethics snare
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was willing to pay a pretty penny for an appointment to the U.S. Senate, an investigative report alleges.
Just a few days before former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is sentenced for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat, a member of Illinois' congressional delegation learned that he faces an ethics committee investigation into whether he tried to buy the seat Blago was selling.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is the latest Illinois politician caught up in the fallout created by years of corruption under Blagojevich. He had been linked earlier by news reports and trial testimony to the Senate seat issue, but this is the first hint of official action that might be taken against him.
A report by U.S. House of Representatives' Office of Congressional Ethics has concluded that there is probable cause to believe that Jackson improperly used his congressional office to try to win appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. The House ethics committee now will take up the issue against Jackson, who is running for re-election in a newly drawn district and faces an opponent in the Democratic Party's March primary.
"There is probable cause to believe that Rep. Jackson either (1) directed a third-party, mostly likely Ragheveer Nayak, to offer to raise money for Gov. Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Rep. Jackson to the Senate seat, or (2) had knowledge that Nayak would likely make such an offer once Rep. Jackson authorized him to advocate on his behalf with Gov. Blagojevich," the report states.
Jackson, as he has done repeatedly since Blago's arrest in 2008, denied involvement in any improprieties. He was, however, among a number of Illinois politicians who were seeking the appointment from Blagojevich.
Jackson acknowledged waging only a public relations campaign for the Senate appointment and contended that he had "acted honorably at all times."
Blagojevich was convicted earlier this year in connection with a wide-ranging corruption spree, including his effort to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama after he was elected to the presidency.
FBI agents arrested Blagojevich in early December 2008, moving earlier than they had intended to prevent him from selling the seat and making the corrupt appointment.
Blagojevich ultimately appointed former Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the vacancy. Burris did not run for election in 2010. The seat is now held by Republican Mark Kirk, who won the 2010 election.
Jackson has not been charged criminally in the Blagojevich investigation, although he did testify at Blagojevich's recent trial. However, the Jackson intermediaries who solicited an appointment from Blagojevich testified at Blagojevich's corruption trial and are cooperating with the House investigation.
They reportedly have testified that they offered $6 million in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate seat.
It is a continuing stain on Illinois to have those implicated in the Blagojevich conspiracy still holding public office. Jackson's reputation has been badly damaged because of his involvement with the former governor. Indeed, he was among those interested in succeeding Mayor Richard Daley until all the bad publicity knocked him out of contention.
Nonetheless, the University of Illinois College of Law graduate remains a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Even as Blagojevich prepares for this week's sentencing hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in Chicago, it's obvious that this case is far from over.