Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s guilty plea to fraud charges raises fresh questions about the Congressional Black Caucus

Why do so many in it succumb to corruption? A disproportionate share of ethics cases have been brought against this exclusive club. According to a 2012 National Journal study, five of the six lawmakers under review by the House Ethics Committee were Black Caucus members. Yet just one in 10 House members belong to the group. It's a familiar pattern. In 2009, all eight lawmakers under ethics investigation were African-American. Besides Jackson, they included Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who was later convicted of accepting gifts from donors with business before his tax-writing panel and 11 other ethics violations. All told, an astonishing one-third of sitting black lawmakers have been named in an ethics probe at some point in their Hill careers. The stat does not include former lawmakers now doing time in prison, such as ex-Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. FBI agents caught Jefferson red-handed with $90,000 of bribery cash stashed in his office freezer. The Black Caucus was founded 40 years ago by civil-rights leaders as "the conscience of the Congress." Members swore to help "disadvantaged African-Americans." Now, members of the group seem more likely to be in trouble for lining their pockets than solving the very serious problems of their constituencies. Jackson is just the latest member of the group to get in trouble, according to the Justice Department. Prosecutors have indicted him for "enriching" himself in a criminal scheme to defraud campaign donors by misusing their funds for his own "personal benefit." He has pled guilty. He admitted to spending at least $750,000 of public funds on personal items, including a $43,350 gold Rolex, $5,150 worth of mink capes and parkas from Beverly Hills, a $4,600 Michael Jackson fedora and $2,200 worth of Malcolm X memorabilia. He was also accused of falsifying federal campaign finance-disclosure reports to conceal the embezzlement. Jackson, who faces 46 to 57 months in jail under a plea agreement, won't be sentenced until June 28, 2013. His wife, Sandi, who also recently resigned from public office, has pleaded guilty to separate tax fraud charges. Jackson in a statement said that he made some "errors in judgment," adding that we all make "mistakes." But this wasn't some sudden ethical lapse. The indictment says that Jackson engaged in at least a seven-year conspiracy to defraud the public. And it may even predate 2005. Fully a decade ago, the conservative press reported that Jackson failed to disclose real-estate assets and income on his congressional financial disclosure forms. It also discovered that he got a sweetheart mortgage on a nine-bedroom mansion. He owned two other properties, plus five BMWs costing a total of $300,000. He also held 10 mutual funds worth as much as $1.1 million. Not bad for a 30-year-old who never worked in the private sector. The major media ignored the suspicious small fortune Jackson had amassed, along with his failure to fully disclose it. They're still ignoring the story. The Sunday news shows all passed on Jackson's indictment. Meanwhile, the Black Caucus has covered for Jackson as it has, shamelessly, for all its members caught up in sleaze. Caucus chair Emanuel Cleaver said that it was a "wild rumor" that Jackson was a crook. "Not true," he asserted. "And I know the whole family." When Jackson abruptly resigned, Cleaver said that he "will depart with a rich legacy in place." He was right about the riches anyway. More and more, the Black Caucus looks deeply troubled and ethically questionable, often using the respect and power of public office to shake down the public — and then using its minority status to call foul on those who complain. The caucus blames "racism" for the ethics cloud that follows it more than any other group in Washington. Please. Enough with the conspiracy theories. There is something rotten within the group itself. It's time to clean house.

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