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Jesse Jackson Jr. Talking With Feds About Blagojevich Since Summer

DON BABWIN | December 17, 2008 09:58 AM EST | AP

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In this Dec. 12, 2008, file photo U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. speaks to reporters outside his house in Chicago. A spokesman for Jackson told The Associated Press Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008, that the congressman has talked to federal investigators about interactions with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and others for years. But Jackson has denied initiating or authorizing anyone to promise anything Blagojevich on his behalf. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)

CHICAGO — Shortly after his 2002 election, Gov. Rod Blagojevich told Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. he didn't appoint the congressman's wife for lottery director because he had refused to make a $25,000 donation to the governor's campaign, a person familiar with the conversation told The Associated Press.

"That's why she's not getting the job," the person quoted Blagojevich as saying. The person, a Jackson associate who was interviewed Tuesday by the AP, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation.

Jackson's name has played prominently ever since Blagojevich was arrested last week on corruption charges, including allegations that the governor tried to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for personal gain.

Jackson has been identified as one of the candidates Blagojevich was considering for the seat, and a criminal complaint said his supporters were willing to raise $1.5 million for the governor if he picked the congressman.

The complaint quotes Blagojevich as saying on federal wiretaps that an associate of the candidate offered to raise money for him if he made the Jackson appointment happen.

Jackson spokesman Kenneth Edmonds declined to comment on the account of the exchange shortly after Blagojevich's 2002 election but said the Democratic congressman, the son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, has approached federal investigators to discuss the governor and others for years.

"He has shared information with federal prosecutors about public corruption during the past several years, including information about Blagojevich and others," Edmonds said.

Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, declined to comment, as did Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.

Jackson has openly sought the Senate position but denies initiating or authorizing anyone to promise anything to Blagojevich on his behalf. The congressman has said federal prosecutors told him he is not a target of their investigation.

The Jackson associate interviewed by the AP did not know whether Jackson's wife, Sandi had asked for the state lottery job. At the time, Blagojevich was the first incoming Democratic governor after years of Republican rule and had scores of state jobs to fill.

"The governor had kind of penciled Sandi in as lottery director and then asked for contributions from the congressman," the person said.

Sandi Jackson, who has since been elected to the Chicago City Council, did not return a call to her office seeking comment.

In April, the Chicago Tribune reported that an examination of campaign donations to Blagojevich showed that three in four donors who gave exactly $25,000 received administration favors such as state board appointments or contracts.

It's also the same amount of money that figured prominently in the testimony of a government witness in the political corruption trial this summer of political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

Ali Ata, the former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority, testified that Blagojevich spoke encouragingly about getting him a job in his administration after he personally brought him a $25,000 campaign contribution.

Rezko, who raised more than $1 million for Blagojevich's campaign fund, was convicted of shaking down companies seeking state business for campaign contributions.

Filed by Ben Goldberger  |  Report Corrections