New York Post - Commentary
By KENNETH R. TIMMERMAN
January 14, 2004 -- Yesterday, self-appointed civil- rights activist Jesse Jackson began his seventh annual "Wall Street Project" conference, a fund-raising extravaganza intended to put on display the dazzling array of Jackson's corporate sponsors and shakedown victims.
Unlike earlier years, however, this year's event is turning out to be less a show of force than a demonstration of Jackson's waning influence.
During the Clinton years, Jackson could count on keynote speeches from the Rainmaker-in-Chief and top cabinet members, whose blessings translated into millions of dollars in income for Jackson's supposedly nonprofit enterprises. This year, he's glad he could attract the former first lady, now the junior senator from New York. It's not certain how many big corporate donors Hillary will attract.
Jackson still has his friends, and his backers. This year, as last, Time Warner will be a major sponsor, hosting the opening reception and two workshops. Jackson has long had a friend at TimeWarner's CNN, which hosted his weekly talk show, "Both Sides with Jesse Jackson," shortly before the 2000 elections. Perhaps they are thinking of a remake, just in time for this year's open season on George W. Bush.
One thing Jackson has understood with the savvy of the former street operator he is: Corporate America is easily aroused to guilt, and is willing to pay big money to assuage it. In recent years, Jackson has focused on two industries and milked them for millions of dollars in contributions to his Citizenship Education Fund and Rainbow PUSH Coalition: the telecoms, and the consumer banking and brokerage industry.
Both industries fit Jackson's bill as potential shakedown victims. Operating nationwide, they serve large numbers of consumers, including those in traditionally minority communities. That gives Jackson leverage for his satisfy-my-demands-or-I'll-boycott technique.
Victims have included telecoms SBC Ameritech, Verizon, AT&T and GTE, brokerages such as Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Solomon Smith Barney and banks such as Citicorp and Bank of America.
These days, Jackson no longer needs to rely on the Blackstone Rangers to enforce his threats, the infamous Chicago street gang whose close ties to Jackson I exposed in my book "Shakedown." (Jackson's half-brother, Noah Robinson, is serving multiple life-sentences for drug-trafficking, murder-for-hire and racketeering in connection with gang-related activities, and was Jackson's business partner in his early Chicago days.)
Instead, he invites the authorities with the power to investigate his activities to keynote his conference and embraces them.
Under Clinton, Jackson hosted Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose portfolio included the Internal Revenue Service, which failed to investigate alleged financial improprieties by Jackson and his groups. He also invited New York State Comptroller Carl McCall, and later stumped for his ill-fated gubernatorial campaign.
McCall sat on the compensation committee of the New York Stock Exchange when it awarded $140 million compensation packages to former chairman Richard Grasso and invited Jackson to ring the closing bell. In 2000, the exchange gave Jackson $194,634, tax records show. With McCall and Grasso gone, so went the favors.
Following the revelations in "Shakedown" and pressure from conservative groups, Jackson's flagship Citizenship Education Fund showed a deficit for the first time in 2002, as Jackson's victims got wise to his act.
But Jackson never gives up hope of finding new friends. This year, informed sources tell me, he has asked New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a $100,000 contribution. An official with Bloomberg LP's charitable giving division, Chris Taylor, refused to confirm the gift but did not deny it, either. "We don't confirm our corporate giving as a matter of company policy," she said.
Jackson also has invited as keynote speaker New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office is responsible for regulating charitable corporations operating in the state.
"This has all the appearance of a conflict of interest," says Ken Boehm of the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group.
Jackson's groups present "a dog's breakfast of sloppy accounting," Boehm says. But with Spitzer in Jackson's camp, don't hold your breath for the AG's office to show any zeal in investigating complaints against the good Rev.
Kenneth R. Timmerman, author of "Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America," is a senior writer for Insight magazine.
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