Earlier today, Former Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison for using cash from his federal campaign account for personal expenses.
However, if Jackson were a member of either house of the Illinois General Assembly, and had used funds from a state legislative campaign account for personal expenses, he would have not committed a crime. In my opinion, that’s wrong.
Democratic State Representative John Bradley, who was the chief sponsor of the fracking legislation that was enacted here in Illinois earlier this year, has used his state legislative campaign funds on personal expenses, as fellow Illinois progressive blogger Will Reynolds noted:
His most recent campaign finance filing shows he spent $736.47 for three days at the Talbott Hotel in January. Their website describes it as a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Chicago’s effervescent Gold Coast.However, because John Bradley is a state legislator, and Illinois law allows state legislators to use money from their state campaign accounts on personal expenses, Bradley hasn’t committed a crime by using campaign cash to pay for personal expenses. John Bradley is just as corrupt as Jesse Jackson, Jr. is, yet Bradley isn’t going to jail because of the differences between federal campaign finance laws and Illinois state campaign finance laws. Reynolds mentioned Jackson’s misuse of campaign cash in his write-up about Bradley:
Perhaps less opulent hotels were all booked that week, but similar expenses show up on his other reports. On December 20 of last year he spent $701.40 at Chicago’s River North Westin Hotel. In July he spent just over $1,000 at the Michigan Avenue Westin for himself and a staff member. That same month he spent $3,343 of campaign funds at the Hilton Suites on the Magnificent Mile. In between those trips, he found time for a $596.83 July 21 stay at St. Louis’ Chase Park Plaza.
I‘m guessing he didn’t see many of his southern Illinois constituents while spending July in downtown Chicago’s best hotels. But, perhaps he did when he returned again in September to spend an additional $765.97 at River North Westin, another $442.32 at the Magnificent Mile Hilton, plus a mere $221.16 at the downtown Sheraton, all in the same month.
I looked back through just one more filling period and found more of the same. Nearly $5,000 for more stays at pricey Chicago hotels in the first half of 2012.
More recently, he spent roughly $1,000 on gifts for his staff. That includes over $300 spent at a jewelry store for one staff member, and $233 at the Magnificent Mile Brooks Brothers. There were several small payments to a member of his family, but those appear to be campaign expenses during his last election.
This may sound similar to Jesse Jackson Jr’s misuse of his Congressional campaign fund. But luckily for State Representative Bradley, rules at the state level are more lenient than they are for members of Congress. General Assembly members are free to use their campaign fund in ways that aren’t directly related to campaign activity.It’s time for the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation prohibiting state legislators and candidates for seats in the General Assembly from using campaign cash for non-campaign expenses, because it’s wrong for any elected official to use his or her campaign funds for non-campaign expenses.