U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said Tuesday he is “deeply sorry” for having “disappointed some supporters” regarding his relationship with a female “social acquaintance.”
But the congressman vowed to stay in office in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times report that a major political fund-raiser has told federal authorities that Jackson directed him to offer former Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions of dollars in campaign cash in return for an appointment for Jackson to the U.S. Senate, to succeed President Obama.
The allegation by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak regarding fund-raising runs counter to public statements Jackson has made as recently as last week that he never authorized any deal to attempt to trade campaign cash for the Senate appointment, which ultimately went not to Jackson but to Sen. Roland Burris.
“The allegations about fund-raising and the Senate seat are not new,” Jackson said in a written statement. “I’ve already talked with the authorities about these claims, told them they were false, and no charges have been brought against me.
“The very idea of raising millions of dollars for a campaign other than my own is preposterous,” Jackson’s statement said. “My interest in the Senate seat was based on years of public service, which I am proud of, not some improper scheme with anyone.”
The Sun-Times reported on Tuesday that sources said Nayak told authorities that on Oct. 8, 2008, Jackson directed him to offer Blagojevich $6 million in exchange for the Senate appointment.
Sources said Nayak also told authorities that Jackson asked him to pay to fly a Washington, D.C., restaurant hostess named Giovana Huidobro — described as a “social acquaintance” of the Democratic congressman — to Chicago to visit him. Nayak did so twice, according to the sources.
Jackson didn’t address Nayak’s allegation involving payment for those flights, which could raise ethical questions under the U.S. House of Representatives’ gift ban act.
But Jackson acknowledged knowing Huidobro and that the relationship was something he an his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, have had to deal with.
“The reference to a social acquaintance is a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago,” Jackson said in his statement. “I ask that you respect our privacy.
“I know I have disappointed some supporters, and for that I am deeply sorry. But I remain committed to serving my constituents and fighting on their behalf.”
Having a third party pay for flights at a congressman’s request and not reporting the value of those flights as a gift, if they were worth more than $50, would appear to be “something of value” under the House’s gift ban, according to an expert on the act.
“It defines ‘gift’ as any ‘item having monetary value,’ ” Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis said, quoting from the law. “ ‘The term includes gifts of . . . transportation . . . A gift to . . . any . . . individual based on that individual’s relationship with the Member . . . shall be considered a gift to the Member . . if it is given with the knowledge and acquiescence of the Member.’ ”
Jackson did not disclose the gift from Nayak on his House ethics statements or on federal campaign contribution logs.
“Completely apart from disclosure, a member’s solicitation of a gift like this would be troubling,” Clark said. “The mere solicitation of a gift is problematic.”
Unless Huidobro’s visit was campaign-related, Jackson’s failure to disclose the gift on his campaign contribution reports does not appear to violate Federal Election Commission requirements, though, Clark and other experts told the Sun-Times.
The FBI interviewed Huidobro about a year ago as part of its corruption probe of Blagojevich. Authorities were trying to determine whether Jackson had asked Nayak to offer Blagojevich campaign cash in exchange for the then-governor appointing Jackson to the seat formerly held by the president Obama, according to sources with knowledge of the probe.