Soon after Jacksons extramarital affair was revealed, Jackson announced that a convicted sex offender with strong political connections would be the Rainbow PUSH Coalitions new consultant on prison reform. Former congressman Mel Reynolds, a Democrat from Chicago, was convicted in 1995 for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl and soliciting child pornography. Until his sentence was commuted by President Clinton, Reynolds also was in prison for bank fraud, wire fraud and lying to the Federal Election Commission about misused political contributions.
But despite Jacksons own public scandal, Reynolds political connections seem to have outweighed public relations concerns. Its not the first example of Jacksons loyalty to the Democratic Party and his affinity for partisan politics. Some activities beg further explanation to Jacksons donors:
The tax-exempt Citizenship Education Fund and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition spent a total of $614,419 last year for Jesse Jacksons travels. In February, Rainbow PUSH chief financial officer Billy Owens admitted that more than $450,000 of Jacksons travel expenses were paid by several Democratic Party committees for get-out-the-vote efforts. It is not clear what portions of the party payments went to which organizations.
A $10,000 donor to CEF was identified as the "Democratic Congress" in CEFs 1999 report to the IRS. CEF also reported a $30,000 donation from the Democratic National Committee in 1994. The reasons for the gifts are not explained.
CEF violated the tax code if it paid for any Democratic-reimbursed travel on behalf of a candidate. That could cost CEF its tax-exempt status.
Also, it is illegal "for a corporation, nonprofit or for-profit, to spend corporate treasury funds for voter registration in behalf of a political party," Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell told the Washington Times.
A November 7, 1998 press release on the Rainbow PUSH website reported on a rally at the groups Chicago headquarters that day. Democrats who been successful in the 1998 elections including Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White were at the rally "to return to Campaign Central and say thanks to the voters," according to the press release. It also announced a voter education drive for the 2000 elections and described a Rainbow PUSH Get Out the Vote tour, which included 64 events in 18 states prior to the 1998 elections.
"One of Rev. Jacksons major goals on the tour was to help the Democrats regain control of the House," the release states.
Last year, Keep Hope Alive PAC reported a $5,000 contribution from a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) affiliate made in January 2000. But SEIUs filing with the Federal Election Commission describes a much larger donation to Keep Hope Alive: $12,450 in March 2000.
The treasurer of Keep Hope Alive is Dennis Rivera, co-chairman of Rainbow PUSH and president of SEIU Local 1199 in New York City. His staff was unable to explain the discrepancy regarding SEIUs contribution before this report was completed. Keep Hope Alives assistant treasurer, Katharine Boyce, did not respond to requests for an interview.
The tax-exempt CEF may not lobby or engage in political activities. But CEF and Rainbow PUSH share a web site (www.rainbowpush.org) that includes materials promoting legislation and political candidates. It is not always clear which organization is responsible for the materials.
Last year, Jackson publicly endorsed New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine for the U.S. Senate. When pressed to release records from his family foundation, Corzine told reporters that the Jon & Joanne Corzine Foundation had granted $50,000 to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in January 2000.
Since 1990, Keep Hope Alive PAC has made only two contributions to federal campaigns. Last year, the re-election campaign for Jesse Jacksons son, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), received $10,000 and Rep. Bobby Lee Rush (D-IL) received an in-kind contribution of $4,149.
In 1999, the Keep Hope Alive PAC received a $2,000 contribution from James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. Zogby was Jacksons key Arab affairs advisor during his 1988 presidential campaign. Zogby helped the campaign attract more than $400,000 in donations from Arab-Americans.
The recent support of Zogby and his Arab American Institute is notable because during Jacksons presidential campaigns, the media and Jewish leaders questioned whether Jacksons pro-Arab views were influenced by donations to his nonprofits. During the 1984 race, Jackson was heavily criticized for two $100,000 donations from the Arab League, a confederation of 21 Arab nations. The gifts were made in 1981 to the PUSH Foundation and PUSH for Excellence. Critics cited a 1979 article in the Christian Science Monitor that claimed Jackson promised political support to the Arab cause in return for financial backing of black efforts in the U.S.
Jackson has had other unsavory relationships that produced gifts to his nonprofits. In 1994, the Citizenship Education Fund reported two donations from the Haitian Embassy: a $20,000 gift with the identification "President Aristide," referring to Haitis president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and a $15,000 gift with the identification "Jean Casimir," referring to Aristides ambassador to the U.S.