Jackson was born in Greenville, South Carolina in March 1965 while his father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was taking part in the famous Selma, Alabama civil rights march. After attending the elite and expensive St. Albans School in Washington, DC, the younger Jackson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1987 from his father’s alma mater, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. He subsequently earned a master’s degree from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1990 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1993.
As a young man, Jackson worked for his father’s activist organizations: He served variously as President of the Keep Hope Alive Political Action Committee (1989-90), Vice President of Operation PUSH (1991-95), and Field Director of the National Rainbow Coalition (1993-95).
Jackson first ran for public office in Illinois in 1994, after then-Second District congressman Mel Reynolds had been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for a sexual liaison with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In a 1995 special election, Jackson won the Democratic primary by a nine-point margin and easily won the general election thereafter. He was re-elected in 1996, and has emerged victorious in every congressional election since then.
Jackson belongs to the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus in the House of Representatives. Americans for Democratic Action rates his voting record as 90 to 95 percent on the left side of legislation. During his congressional career, Jackson has voted:
For a more comprehensive overview of Jackson’s voting record, click here.
In 2000 Jackson was one of only 15 congressmen to vote against the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” which provided that if an infant somehow survived an abortion procedure, he or she would acquire the human rights of a person already born. In 2003 Jackson voted against banning the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion. And in 2004 he voted against a bill imposing additional criminal penalties for harming a fetus during the commission of a crime against a pregnant woman. For these and similar votes, Jackson has garnered a 100 percent rating from the abortion-rights group NARAL.
Among Jackson’s biggest campaign contributors are the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) and law firms whose members are wealthy tort lawyers. He has voted against every measure that would limit their profits. In 2003, for instance, Jackson opposed a bill to prohibit lawsuits against gun-makers and -sellers when a criminal misuses a firearm. In 2003 he voted “No” on bills to cap damages in medical lawsuits and to put lawsuits against HMOs under federal regulation. In 2004 he voted against limiting medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 in damages.
In 1999 Jackson and his father co-authored It’s About the Money, an advice book on acquiring wealth. This book describes financial independence as “the fourth movement of the Freedom Symphony,” without which the earlier emancipation from slavery, end of segregation, and political empowerment are incomplete.
In 2008 Jackson served as national co-chair of the Barack Obama presidential campaign.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Jackson sought to distance himself from remarks his father had made over a live microphone prior to a television interview. Specifically, the elder Jackson had criticized Obama by suggesting that he was “talking down to black people.” I response, Jesse Jackson Jr. said, “I thoroughly reject and repudiate his [the father’s] ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”
After Obama’s election victory in November 2008, Jackson emerged as a possible candidate to fill the new President’s vacated seat in the U.S. Senate. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was legally authorized to appoint Obama’s replacement, met with several candidates — including Jackson on December 8, 2008. The following day, Blagojevich was arrested in a federal corruption scandal on suspicion that he was trying to sell the Illinois Senate seat in exchange for money or political favors. In a secretly recorded telephone conversation, Blagojevich asserted that emissaries for “Senate Candidate #5” (Jesse Jackson, Jr.) had offered up to $1 million in exchange for the appointment. Jackson, however, denied any knowledge of such negotiations.
In October 2011, Jackson proposed an $804 billion jobs plan calling on the federal government to hire (for $600 billion) the nation’s 15 million unemployed Americans for jobs paying roughly $40,000 apiece, and to bail out all the states and cities facing budget crises (for another $104 billion and $100 billion, respectively). Said Jackson:
“We put people to work cleaning up communities. We put people to work through a civilian conservation corps, through a Works Progress Administration because the hour demands it. And as more people work, they pay taxes, they pay taxes into the 4th quarter, they buy wares, they buy homes, they meet their obligations and our economy begins to work its way out of this protracted recession. That’s the only way out of this crisis.”
In June 2012, Jackson suddenly took a leave of absence for undisclosed reasons. In August, his office revealed that he was receiving treatment for depression and bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
In October 2012, federal investigators announced that shortly before Jackson had taken his leave of absence, they had begun a probe into whether the congressman had illegally used campaign funds to redecorate the inside of his Washington, DC home.
On November 21, 2012, he resigned from Congress as the probe into the case unfolded.
On February 16, 2013, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Jackson, accusing him of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use, including purchases of a $43,000 Rolex watch; thousands of dollars for travel and meals with a mistress; various items of clothing made of mink; and memorabilia pieces that once belonged to such luminaries as Bruce Lee, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen. One of Jackson’s lawyers stated that his client intended to plead guilty to one count (each) of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and making false statements.
On February 19, 2013, Jackson pleaded guilty to one federal charge related to using campaign funds for personal expenses.