What's the going rate for public corruption?
We saw two important sentences pronounced this week, and I'm still scratching my head over them.
Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. stole $750,000 in campaign funds and was sentenced to 30 months behind bars.
Former Hammond City Councilman Al Salinas took a $10,500 bribe and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
Is there fairness evident here?
There are differences between the two cases, to be sure, but there are a lot of similarities, too.
Jackson pocketed money from private donors who believed in him but were betrayed. Those donors wanted to sway decisions made in Congress -- why else would you help get a candidate elected? -- and, perhaps, in federal agencies where Jackson could exert some influence.
While in Congress, Jackson accomplished a good deal for his district. The Deep Tunnel project is an excellent example. Flooding in that district has been greatly reduced because of the tens of millions of federal dollars Jackson directed to this massive public works project, and the jobs it created didn't hurt, either.
Salinas took $10,500 from the owner of a tree service looking for influence, namely a city contract.
Salinas will spend more time behind bars than Jackson as they both contemplate their similar sins.
"I'm very sorry," Salinas said at his sentencing hearing as he pleaded for sympathy. "I have embarrassed my name, the Salinas name."
He also embarrassed his city. But Jackson arguably did worse.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, who succeeded Jackson, is under greater pressure than other members of Congress to not make a single misstep.
By pocketing campaign funds, Jackson heaped additional shame on his congressional district, which didn't have that much honor to begin with.
Jackson's two immediate predecessors in the 2nd Congressional District also behaved badly.
Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds spent 36 months in prison for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old campaign worker before President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence. And former U.S. Rep. Gus Savage, Reynolds' predecessor, was censured, but not removed from office, after press reports in 1989 that he was hitting on a Peace Corps worker in Zaire.
Come to think of it, Congress doesn't have that much honor these days, and Jackson reinforced the negative stereotypes of both congressmen and Illinois politicians.
Why single out Illinois politicians? Ask former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich if you really can't figure it out for yourself.
So why was Jackson, who pocketed $750,000, sentenced to a shorter prison term than Salinas, who took $10,500? That's one I can't figure out, with or without help from the many disgraced former public officials in either Illinois or Indiana.
I'm not arguing for lenience for either Jackson or Salinas. What they did is awful.
To both, I have the same parting thought: Good riddance!