By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said Monday that he did not violate House ethics rules when he had a longtime friend and fundraiser buy a plane ticket for a woman who had a secret relationship with the congressman.
Jackson defended his actions during a House ethics committee investigation into allegations that the same fundraiser was part of a scheme to raise $1 million for convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for the governor appointing Jackson to the U.S. Senate.
The 17-year congressman’s remarks came during an appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board with his March 20 primary opponent, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who said the House investigation was keeping Jackson from doing his job.
Jackson’s response to the ethics concerns raised new questions when he was asked about his extramarital relationship. He noted he had apologized to “my absolute best friend, my wife,” Sandi Jackson, a Chicago alderwoman.
But he also acknowledged that he asked longtime supporter Raghuveer Nayak to pay to fly the woman from Washington to Chicago. House ethics rules prohibit members from soliciting gifts.
Jackson said Nayak’s purchase was “a friendly gesture” by “a close and dear friend of mine, one who knows members of my family, has worked with members of my family, has been a friend of our family’s for a number of years.”
The woman’s travel was “not a personal benefit to me, I don’t believe, under the House rules. A benefit to the person for whom he bought the ticket. He didn’t buy tickets for me. Did I direct him? I did.”
Jackson seemed to indicate the House Committee on Ethics, which is conducting the Senate seat inquiry, was also looking at the ticket purchase.. He said the “personal benefit does not extend to the idea of having broken a federal law. It doesn’t extend to the idea that remains before the committee to determine as to whether it constitutes a personal benefit to me, which is the House rule.”
A spokesman for the House committee said he could not comment.
Rick Bryant, an aide to Jackson, later said he did not believe the ethics panel was looking into the matter, and he released a statement from Jackson aimed at clearing up the confusion.
“I assume the committee will look into all matters and at the appropriate time will issue a report on its finding,” Jackson said in the statement. “I reiterate that I am confident that in the end I will be vindicated.”
Jackson denies any knowledge that supporters were prepared to raise money for Blagojevich to secure Jackson’s appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Nayak told federal investigators that the congressman asked him to raise campaign money for Blagojevich.
Jackson acknowledged asking Nayak to help, but said it was simply to call Blagojevich and make the case for getting the appointment.
Halvorson, a former one-term congresswoman from Crete who lost in 2010 to Republican Adam Kinzinger, said the investigation has become a distraction for the incumbent.
“This has consumed all of this time, like he said, for over 3 years. And so, people want someone who’s actually going to be there for them, somebody who’s going to listen, somebody they can trust,” Halvorson said. “And that’s been the problem over these past three years.”