Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi Jackson, were sentenced on Wednesday to jail time for spending $750,000 in campaign funds on luxury items, living expenses and clothing — or, as the judget put it, using their campaign funds as a “personal piggy bank.”
“There may be gray areas in campaign finance,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation to Jesse) told the pair, adding, “This case did not come near to those areas.”
“As a public official, you are supposed to live up to a higher standard of ethics and integrity,” said Berman Jackson. The former representative served as the congressional representative for the south side of Chicago for 16 years.
The pair both tearfully confessed, asking the judge to consider what negative effects extended prison sentences might have on their children, ages 9 and 13. Jesse Jackson Jr. will receive 30 months in prison with three years of supervised release while his wife will receive one year.
“I take responsibility for my actions,” Jesse Jackson Jr. said, openly sobbing. “I misled the American people.”
Evidently the judge took their testimony into consideration, as both received shorter terms than recommended by federal prosecutors, who originally sought four years for Jesse Jackson Jr. and 18 months for his wife. While the judge purposefully sentenced Mrs. Jackson to 12 months exactly so that she did not qualify for early release (which you are eligible for if you serve any time over a year), Jesse Jackson Jr. will still have the possibility of having several months taken from his sentence for good behavior.
According to evidence submitted to the court, Jackson used donor’s money in all of the ways you just shouldn’t use donor money. He spent $43,350 on a gold-plated men’s Rolex watch, for instance. Then there’s the $5,000 he spent on capes and fur parkas. He also bought some toothpaste from Costco — so maybe he did have a more rational side.
While Jackson’s lawyers attempted to tie the spending to his bipolar disorder and portray it as a victimless crime (“There are not widows and orphans surrounding the courthouse wanting his head,” said one of the lawyers), the prosecutors pretty handily proved that Jackson’s constant spending wasn’t simply lapses in mental stability, and that his crime “strikes at the integrity of the campaign-finance system,” which, sounds like a pretty hefty victim to me.
The Jacksons will be allowed to serve their prison sentences one at a time in the best interest of the children. Jesse Jackson Jr. will serve his sentence first.