At most, Jesse L. Jackson Jr. will get 57 months in prison for using $750,000 in campaign funds for such items as a gold Rolex wrist watch, a football signed by American presidents, a mink cashmere cape and a Michael Jackson fedora. The former Democratic congressman from Chicago and son of civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson is to be sentenced June 28.
It would be a travesty of justice if federal Judge Robert L. Wilkins decided that maximum punishment is not warranted. It is — not only to make Jackson pay for his crimes, but to deliver a clear message that no officeholder is above the law.
There is precedent for throwing the book at scofflaws on Capitol Hill.
Mahoning Valley residents had front row seats to former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.’s fall from grace. He was convicted by a jury on 10 federal criminal counts of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering after a highly publicized trial in which he defended himself.
Simply put, federal prosecutors accused the most powerful political in the Valley at the time of using his public position for personal gain.
Traficant was sentenced to eight years in the federal penitentiary and served slightly less than that.
In terms of dollars and cents, it has long been suggested that Traficant’s criminality was worth a measly $45,000.
Yet, federal prosecutors and the judge in the case correctly maintained that the violation of his oath of office and the people’s trust should not be assigned a monetary value.
That standard needs to be applied to former Congressman Jackson. Although he has admitted using the $750,000 to pay for living expenses and to buy items like stuffed animals, elk heads and fur capes, as the New York Times reported, his sins of commission went a lot further.
Jackson grew up in a political family and had the advantage of his father’s standing, especially in the black community, to bolster his credentials. He went to Congress with the advantage of name, and yet squandered the opportunities that presented themselves.
“For years I lived off my campaign,” the 47-year-old once rising star in Democratic Party politics told the judge. “I used money I shouldn’t have used for personal purposes.”
In pleading guilty, he said he misled the American people.
Jackson’s wife, Sandi, has also pleaded guilty to a charge of filing false income tax statements during the time her husband was misappropriating the campaign funds. Prosecutors want her to serve between 18 and 24 months in prison.
It would be one thing if Jackson and his wife were in such dire economic straits that they needed the money to feed and clothe their children.
Greedy and self-centered
But, as the list of items purchased with the $750,000 shows, they were simply greedy and self-centered.
The congressional district Jackson represented is far from wealthy, yet he had no qualms about wearing a gold wristwatch that cost more than $40,000; his wife had no shame in wearing a mink cashmere cape.
Jackson’s lawyer is pleading for leniency, saying his client had health issues that contributed to his criminality. But no where in the list is there an expense for medical treatment or psychiatric evaluation.
Jackson knew better, but didn’t care. He and his wife must pay the price.