Two Tawdry Con Men: Jesse Jackson, Robert Torricelli

In the same way that Bill Clinton’s shameless exit from

office proved even to his supporters that he and his wife, Senator Hillary

Rodham Clinton, were as selfish and reckless as their opponents had always

claimed, recent revelations about Jesse Jackson’s finances should put to rest

any doubts that Mr. Jackson’s career is nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors

show. And a new report that Mr. Jackson played a major role in obtaining two

unsavory clemency deals from Mr. Clinton simply adds to the unflattering

portrait.

It’s hard to know where to start with Mr. Jackson, so

widespread is his assault on integrity. The

public’s interest was piqued after it was revealed that the married Mr.

Jackson had a girlfriend on the payroll, Karin Stanford. Now it turns out that

Mr. Jackson just happened to omit her name on a financial document on which the

government requires nonprofits to list employees earning over $50,000. Then

there’s Mr. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization, which received $763,000 from

the state of Illinois to promote a health-care program for the poor and then

did almost nothing in return.

Running scams like those doesn’t come cheap. Travel expenses

for Mr. Jackson, his colleagues and his entourage run $1.3 million a year. He

pays himself $120,000, but also picks up $5,000 a week from his TV show on CNN.

His busy schedule somehow allowed for him to persuade Bill Clinton to grant

last-minute clemency to two friends, including John Bustamante, Mr. Jackson’s

former attorney, who was doing time for wire fraud. The other recipient of Mr.

Jackson’s and Mr. Clinton’s sympathy was Dorothy Rivers, who stole $1.5 million

of government money intended for poor people and mentally handicapped children.

The judge who sentenced Ms. Rivers described her crime as “evil itself.”

It is clearly time for new black leaders in public service,

men and women who can thrive as so many African-Americans have in the private

sector, such as Ken Chennault, chief executive at American Express; Dick

Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner; and Ruth Simmons, the new president of

Brown University. And yet, time and again,

the “public leader” spotlight falls on Mr. Jackson and his partners in

scandal and anti-Semitism, Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton. Much of the fault lies with mainstream politicians and the media,

who refuse to challenge Mr. Jackson, Mr. Farrakhan and Mr. Sharpton for

fear of being labeled racist.

Instead, it has fallen to prominent African-American

journalists such as Clarence Page and Mary Mitchell to write honestly of Mr.

Jackson. Mr. Page, a member of the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune , describes Mr. Jackson as “a victim of his own

ego.” Ms. Mitchell, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times , commenting on the new disclosures, wrote, “It was

already difficult for many people to understand how the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

became wealthy while championing the causes of poor people. Most civil rights

leaders had very few worldly goods when

they died. In fact, I was struck by the humility the Rev. Martin Luther

King Jr. showed when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King didn’t rush off

to buy a new car or home for his family. He donated the entire $54,000 to the

black movement. The civil rights movement has changed a lot since then.”

Robert Torricelli

New Jersey’s senior Senator, Robert Torricelli, has a knack

for getting himself in the news. Some years ago, he delighted the New York

press by squiring around women such as Bianca Jagger and Patricia Duff. Now

that he has become a member of the U.S. Senate, Mr. Torricelli believes that

the nation awaits his wisdom. And so he has become a fixture on television talk

shows, a slick regurgitator of conventional wisdom.

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Torricelli has been making the

kind of news that would turn even the most egregious publicity hound into a

hermit. Federal investigators are looking into his 1996 campaign for the

Senate, focusing on the financing of the campaign and Mr. Torricelli’s use of

private airplanes. Nineteen flights were arranged by businessman David Chang,

one of Mr. Torricelli’s most important donors. While the aircraft issue may not

inspire outrage, there is a larger issue here: When it comes to finances,

personal or political, Mr. Torricelli seems to live on the ethical edge. For

example:

· As chairman of the Democratic Senate

Campaign Committee, Mr. Torricelli used a

loophole in campaign-finance law to create “victory funds” for Democratic

candidates. These funds allowed Mr. Torricelli to raise millions in soft money

for such people as Hillary Clinton.

· Six donors to

his 1996 campaign have entered guilty pleas on charges that they made illegal

donations to Mr. Torricelli.

· Mr.

Torricelli has been a vocal champion for an Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e

Khalq, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization. The

group’s sympathizers have donated $136,000 to Mr. Torricelli, by one estimate.

· The Senator has

become a hard-liner on Cuba and Fidel Castro in recent years. As luck would

have it, right-wing Cuban hard-liners have donated $120,000 to Mr. Torricelli.

· Mr. Torricelli

has scored big profits from financial speculation: In 1992 he made a profit of $140,000 on an I.P.O. issued by a

friend’s bank; he made $52,000 in a single day in the mid-1990′s on

another I.P.O. After Mr. Torricelli promised to cease and desist from such

trading, he made a $200,000 profit on a $5,000 investment in an Internet

company in 1999.

Truth be told, Robert

Torricelli is little more than a gussied-up used-car salesman. In another world, he’d be manning a showroom

along New Jersey’s Route 22.

Instead, he’s

doing business on Capitol Hill.