Oral History Project: Clay Jackson

Clay Jackson, right, with his attorney, Donald Heller, in 1994 outside the federal courthouse in Sacramento. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Clay Jackson was once the most powerful lobbyist in Sacramento, representing the insurance industry and overseeing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to politicians. His firm billed $2 million annually.

But Jackson, along with 11 others, was caught in the FBI’s undercover corruption investigation of the state Capitol and wound up going to federal prison. The probe came to light in August 1988 following the FBI’s nighttime raid on the Capitol. The fallout of that investigation, one of the darkest episodes in the Capitol’s history, continued for years.

The imposing Jackson — at the time, he weighed 300 pounds and stood 6-foot-6 — dominated any meeting he attended. “When Clay walked into a room, his awesome size and presence literally blocked out the light,” then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown once told a reporter.

Jackson, who long maintained his innocence, received a sentence of more than six years in 1993 for money laundering, racketeering and bribing a state senator. He served his time at a federal prison in Nevada.

Jackson consented to a lengthy interview as part of our Open California Oral History Project. Click here to see the two-part video. The transcripts of the interview, Parts I and II, can be accessed here and here.

The interview was conducted Sept. 18, 2018, by journalist Sigrid Bathen in the Sacramento studios of the California Channel, the nonprofit public affairs television network.

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