The Tragic Fall of the House of Jesse Jackson

Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. agreed Friday to plead guilty to charges of misusing campaign funds, in an apparent bid to an end a federal investigation that threatens to also implicate his wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson. Both had resigned their offices in recent months, reportedly as part of the congressman's negotiations with prosecutors. 

Pictured: Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) speaks to constituents following a town hall meeting at the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ where he discussed the President's health insurance reform plan August 18, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
For the scion of what was once the country's most influential African-American family, the plea deal represents a precipitous fall from grace that overlaps with the ascent of another African-American Chicago family to the White House.  The Jackson dynasty appears to be done.

"There was a time when Jesse Jackson Jr. saw himself as the first African American president and now he's probably on his way to jail," says Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association--a Chicago-based good-government group. "This is a major fall from grace--and a family tragedy."

The son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson--who mounted two competitive campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s--served 17 years in Congress, representing a seat so safe that he easily won reelection last November despite not campaigning due to a highly publicized hospitalization for bipolar disorder and other ailments.

He resigned two weeks after Election Day. His wife, a city alderman, resigned her office in January after the Chicago Sun Times raised questions about her use of campaign funds from her husband's congressional accounts, including a $5,000 monthly consulting salary, credit-card charges and the moving of money between accounts.
This practice is apparently epidemic in the corruption-plagued Land of Lincoln. 

"A lot of politicians use political donations as lifestyle enhancements--getting work done on their homes, taking fancy vacations, etc," says Shaw. "At the very least they're bending the rules of campaign finance and sometimes they violate them blatantly. Unfortunately the IRS and state election boards are stretched too thin to investigate. But if you end up under the microscope of the U.S. Attorney that all changes ... Jesse Jackson Jr. is not an outlier here, but he's the one who got caught. There are a lot of politicians who are probably saying 'there but for the grace of God go I.'"

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s fall is more profound than most Chicago pols because of the arc of history behind it. This is not just the case of one wayward son--the Jackson mantle has been tarnished in recent years due to a steady stream of scandals from the father as well.  


SOURCE: John Avlon 
The Daily Beast
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