Newspaper article Roll Call

What Did Jesse Jackson Jr. Do Wrong?

Newspaper article Roll Call

What Did Jesse Jackson Jr. Do Wrong?

Article excerpt

Q. I am a Hill staffer with a question about the jail sentence Jesse Jackson Jr. recently received for campaign finance violations. I didn't follow his case closely, but, from what I understand about it, the jail sentence struck me as a bit harsh. It's not like Jackson killed anyone, or even harmed someone. And as a Hill staffer I know that campaign finance law can be very complicated, and because of that we are always worried about the possibility of inadvertent violations. What exactly did Jackson do that resulted in him going to jail?

A: On Aug. 14, 2013, at a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., once viewed by some as a rising political star, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for federal crimes to which he had pleaded guilty earlier this year. His wife, the mother of his two young children, was also sentenced to prison for a year for her role in the crimes. She had also pleaded guilty.

So what did Jackson do? Technically, he admitted to conspiring to commit wire and mail fraud and making false statements. In plain speak, he acknowledged defrauding his campaign of approximately $750,000.

Federal election law requires that money donated to federal campaigns be used for official campaign purposes. This means candidates and their campaigns must monitor use of campaign funds to ensure that the funds are being used properly. You are correct that federal election law can be very complicated. And, because of that complexity, it can be easy to commit inadvertent violations without careful attention.

You are also correct that Jackson was not charged with killing or physically harming anyone. Indeed, at the sentencing hearing, Jackson's attorney cited the absence of victims when urging the judge for leniency. "This wasn't a Ponzi scheme," Jackson's counsel told the judge. "There are not widows and orphans surrounding the courthouse wanting his head."

Yet prosecutors would take issue with the claim that there are no victims of the Jacksons' actions or that their crimes weren't serious. Lead prosecutor Matthew Graves said Jackson's conduct was "staggering," calling the case "one of the most significant abuses of the campaign-system. …

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