This post has been updated.
CHICAGO — Embattled U. S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. may have reclaimed his post by a landslide without any noticeable campaign efforts, but he may also be working on a plea deal with federal prosecutors who are investigating him for possible misuse of campaign funds.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported late Wednesday that Jackson was in plea deal talks with federal authorities, according to an unnamed source.
While Jackson is being investigated by the FBI on charges that he used campaign funds to redecorate his Washington, D.C. home, the Sun-Times reports that Jackson may have also used campaign funds to buy a $40,000 Rolex for a female friend.
Adding fuel to the political fire, CBS Chicago reported Thursday that Jackson was talked out of resigning from his seat before election, but part of the reason why he reconsidered was so he wouldn’t lose his federal health insurance when he needed it most.
Representatives from Congressman Jackson’s officer were not immediately available for comment.
Jackson’s win claiming 63 percent of votes cast during the 2012 election was no surprise in the heavily Democratic Illinois 2nd Congressional District he’s served for more than 18 years. But avid supporter and key South Side Democrat Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) within Jackson’s district expressed her outrage with a possible plea deal in light of that victory.
“To slap us in the face now, you just lied to us. You just lied to us. I feel so betrayed,” Austin told NBC Chicago.
According to CBS Chicago, Austin said she’s upset because Democratic leaders have supported Jackson during his leave of absence, believing his goal was to return to work.
“We had an absolute genuine concern that, let him heal, let him get to where the point that he needs to be,” Austin told CBS Chicago “And then all you did was use that to get to where you’re at now? ‘I’m going to make a deal?’ Oh please. I think that that was totally unfair of him.”
Still, “no one has pled guilty, but plea discussions are ongoing,” the anonymous source told the Sun-Times.
“The U.S. attorney tries not to indict before an election because the Justice Department doesn’t want to be seen as interfering in politics,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a former Chicago alderman.
And as to Jackson’s decision not to resign, Simpson added: “it’s not in his advantage to resign his seat before because he’s in a stronger position to plea bargain as a sitting congressman. Once he’s no longer a congressman, he has no power.”
Jackson is currently receiving treatment at the Rochester Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder with no estimate of when he would return to the House. He’s been on a leave of absence since June, part of the time convalescing in his Washington D.C. home, where he visited doctors twice a day.
Meanwhile, a House Ethics Committee continues to look into Jackson’s supposed involvement in trying to be appointed to now-President Barack Obama’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
If Jackson were to plead guilty, or go to trial and be found guilty—which has not yet been confirmed—he would have to resign from his newly re-elected Congressional seat and a special primary and election would have to be held to fill the vacancy.
In the event of a vacancy, the Chicago Board of Elections would be prepared.
“We’re ready to conduct a special primary and special election in the event any member of Congress were to leave, whether for an appointment in a cabinet…or for any other reason,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.
According to Allen, a special election would entail early voting, absentee voting, polling places, judges of election, election supplies, petition circulation, petition filing and a host of other expenses typically covered in general elections.
The last special election the city held was to fill then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s seat in the 5th Congressional District of Illinois after he was appointed as President Barack Obama’s White House Chief of Staff.
Allen said that special election was rather costly, but did not detail how costly, or how much a special election could cost taxpayers in the event of a vacancy.
“When we were done with that election, we made the determination that if there were ever a special election—whether it were for a ward alderman, state senate district, whatever the case may be—and it’s just one little district, we’re going to try to do most of that by mail,” Allen said.
Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.