The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

August 19, 2013

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s real victim: public trust

(Continued)

The evidence, she said to Jackson, who holds degrees in business, theology and law, “points to only one conclusion: and that is that you knew better.”

Occasional “manic episodes” could explain some of the spending, she said, but not the “continued purchases, day in and day out” in the 3,000 times that the Jacksons used campaign money to make personal purchases. Nor did they explain the purchases by Sandi Jackson, whose mental health was not questioned, only her judgment.

Sad. As I sat through the four-hour sentencing hearing, I thought back to the young Jackson’s arrival in Washington after his election to the House in a special election in 1995, at age 30.

I liked him immediately. Replacing another convicted congressman, he was a breath of fresh air. As a lawmaker, “Triple-J,” I wrote, had all of his famous father’s positives without the controversial negatives. That was long before he developed some major negatives of his own.

What went wrong? Was it the often-cited “culture of corruption,” hardly unique to Chicago, that brought him down? A clue seemed to emerge as the former congressman’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten argued vigorously, “(w)ithout trivializing the offense,” that “there is no victim” in this crime.

After all, he pointed out, before the law was changed in the 1980s, elected officials used to consider campaign accounts to be their “retirement funds.”

Judge Berman wasn’t buying that. She correctly, in my view, identified a group of people who are victimized by the misuse of donated campaign funds: They’re called “donors.”

And voters. The Jacksons’ biggest crime was to further undermine the public’s trust in their political leaders, which is battered enough already.

Indeed, Jackson’s popularity in his district and elsewhere only served to make his illegal spending all the more puzzling and tragic. The junior Jackson was handily re-elected, for example, without campaigning except for a TV ad and posters that said simply “Jr.” in big letters.

That popularity naturally leads many in this cynical age of bizarre comebacks (Bill Clinton and Mark Sanford come to mind) to wonder whether “Jr.” still might have a future. I hope so, but not in government.

Even in my beloved Chicago, anyone who would give him even more campaign cash should have their own head examined.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

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