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Jackson Staff Aided Pursuit of Appointment to Obama Senate Seat

CQ Roll Call File Photo

“At no time during the meeting, however, did Congressman Jackson ever authorize or overhear any offer by Nayak to raise campaign funds ... if in fact Nayak made such an offer. ... Jackson is deeply disappointed in his former friend,” the letter from Jackson’s attorneys said. “Congressman Jackson’s contacts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office provide important context for the allegations that the Ethics Committee is investigating. It simply makes no sense that Congressman Jackson would have reported Blagojevich’s pay-to-play misconduct to the authorities, and agreed to provide a full report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, at the same time he was engaged in his own purported pay-to-play scheme to obtain the Senate seat in exchange for campaign contributions.”

Nayak, Blagojevich and his representative at the meeting did not cooperate with the OCE’s investigation.

The OCE first referred the Jackson matter to the ethics committee in August 2009 and it stalled while the Department of Justice completed its investigation of the former governor. The committee resumed its investigation in mid-October and has the power to subpoena the individuals who did not participate the OCE’s probe.

Blagojevich was convicted of 17 separate corruption charges in June and is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on Dec. 6.

More problematic for Jackson than the pay-to-play charges could be allegations that he misused official government resources for his Senatorial bid, in part because there is more documentation and it would be easier to prove, experts told Roll Call.

The OCE report details how two of Jackson’s senior staffers used their government email accounts and official titles to contact editorial boards to promote the idea of Jackson’s appointment, attended meetings related to his Senate bid and drafted letters about why an Indian-American interest group in Chicago should support Jackson’s appointment to the Senate.

“The chief of staff described Representative Jackson alternatively as both the coach and the quarterback of their campaign for the seat or as the coach and himself as the quarterback,” the OCE report noted.

Jackson’s attorneys contend that since he was not conducting an actual Senate campaign, his staffers’ involvement in the process cannot be construed as an improper use of official resources. But ethics experts told Roll Call that any use of Hill staffers for tasks not related to the Member’s official duties — whether it’s drafting campaign literature or picking up dry cleaning — is a violation of ethics rules unless it the tasks are simply incidental.

“To the extent that the committee concludes that any of the activities engaged in by [staffers] in the congressional offices went beyond the exceptions discussed in the House Ethics Manual, such violations were inadvertent and resulted from the novelty of the situation presented by the vacant Senate seat and the subsequent appointment process,” Jackson’s lawyers wrote.

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