An endorsement, and a consulting contract


From the Hotline:

State Sen. Darrell Jackson (D) is the pastor of the Bible Way Church in Columbia. which has one of the largest congregations in South Carolina. He was the youngest African American ever elected to the legislature. His endorsement is among the few in the state that can change minds and move votes. 

Senator Darrell  Jackson

Jackson is also a prized political consultant, and, during the past two South Carolina primary campaigns, has been the object of a bidding war between top-tier presidential candidates.

Yesterday, Jackson confirmed that he had decided to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton, less than six days after his public relations firm, Sunrise Enterprises, agreed to a contract with Clinton’s campaign worth at least $10,000 a month through the 2008 elections – a total of $210,000. (The contract has not been signed.)

A few days before that, Jackson was deep in negotiations with Steve Hildebrand, a senior strategist for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. On the table was a contract worth in excess of $5K a month, beginning on 3/15/07. Separately, Obama was personally soliciitng Jackson’s endorsement.

There’s no question that the contract and the negotiations are legal. Sunrise is the oldest political consulting firm run by African Americans in the state and its services were in demand: at least five candidates, including Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden, reached out to Jackson.

But in an interview, Jackson conceded that he should have acknowledged his firm’s new business relationship with the Clinton campaign. “This Clinton campaign didn’t put this on me, and neither did I. We didn’t intend to announce this for a while,” he said. “It wasn’t me that called a press conference.” Jackson’s colleague, State Sen. Robert Ford, proudly told a reporter yesterday that he and Jackson had decided to endorse Clinton. Jackson, in subsequent interviews with reporters, confirmed his choice.

“It’s Not About The Money”

“It’s not about money,” he said. “Quite honestly, I’ve turned done more money from some of the other candidates.” Jackson said that when he told an official for another campaign about his Clinton endorsement, the official offered to “double” whatever Clinton offered him. Jackson told the official, whose name and campaign affiliation he declined to identify, that he was offended at the thought that his endorsement was bought. Jackson: “I don’t even take a salary” (at Sunrise).

“Senator Jackson is one of the most respected leaders in South Carolina, and he runs one of the most successful media firms in the state,” said Mo Elleithee, a Clinton spokesperson. “He and his firm were being aggressively courted by other campaigns – once we learned that he was supporting Senator Clinton, we jumped at the chance to have him be part of our South Carolina operation. We’re proud to have him on our team.”

Elleithee said the Clinton campaign never intended to compensate Jackson in exchange for an endorsement. Another Clinton adviser acknowledged that the optics of the endorsement were cloudy but said that the negotiations were above board.

As late as Feb. 7, Jackson had not decided which candidate to support. He was fielding formal offers from at least three other campaigns, including Obama’s. In October of 2004, before Obama began to publicly consider a presidential race, the then Senate candidate spoke at Jackson’s church and met privately with the minister.

On Feb. 6, according to copies of an e-mail provided to the Hotline, Obama called Jackson and again asked for his endorsement. The next day, one of Jackson’s aides told Hildebrand, who oversees Obama’s early primary state campaigns, that Jackson would decide whether to endorse Obama within two days. The aide wrote that Jackson had not decided about which contract offer to accept. And the aide hinted to Hildebrand that Sunrise had received another offer for a consulting contract.

In 2003, Sunrise was hired by Axelrod and Associates to advise on media buys and consult on strategy for Sen. John Edwards’s campaign. David Axelrod, now an Obama adviser, was Edwards’s media consultant in 2004. Sen. Jackson endorsed Edwards, who won the primary.