Jesse Jackson Jr.’s decline

Michelle Singletary
Columnist February 21, 2013

Former Democratic congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pled guilty on Wednesday in federal court to criminal charges that he spent $750,000 in campaign funds for his personal use, reported The Washington Post’s Anne E. Marimow.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

“For years, I lived in my campaign,” Jackson said as he dabbed his eyes with a tissue before pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to one felony count of conspiracy to commit false statements, mail fraud and wire fraud, according to the report. “I used monies that should have been used for the campaign.”

Jackson faces a prison sentence of 46 to 57 months. Jackson’s wife, Sandra, a former Chicago alderman, was charged with filing false income-tax returns from 2006 through 2011. She also pled guilty Wednesday afternoon.

Marimow wrote that “court documents outline how extensively Jackson and his wife used campaign funds for personal expenses, from the extravagant to the mundane. In addition to high-end items such as cashmere and fur wraps, the Jacksons used campaign cards to pay for movie tickets, health-club dues and trips to Costco.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, “It was the kind of runaway spending usually reserved for someone with newfound riches — a holistic retreat, a cruise, pricey restaurant tabs, flat-screen televisions and even a pair of stuffed elk heads.”

In recent years when Jackson was in Congress and his wife was on the Council, the couple’s combined annual salaries as public officials totaled more than $270,000, the Tribune reporters pointed out.

Jonathan Allen and John Bresnahan of Politico noted that, “unlike many scandals that have ensnared elected officials, this brazen tale of personal enrichment doesn’t involve public money.”

Of course, everyone has a take on the fall of the Jacksons.

“For many people, it can be hard to resist the urge to pretend you’re rich when you’re around so many people who are truly wealthy,” I wrote in my column on Wednesday. “Not an excuse, just an observation.”

“Jackson’s story is a tale often told in Washington: A public official amasses power and comes to think the rules don’t apply to him,” wrote The Post’s Dana Milbank.

One reader, in an e-mail, wrote: “People with bipolar disorder have a tendency to go on severe shopping sprees, spending money that they don’t have or that isn’t theirs to spend. My brother is bipolar and when he has a manic episode it is oftentimes accompanied by purchasing things he won’t even remember buying. Part of what’s wrong with our mental health system is that nobody gets what happens during episodes of mental illness, and instead all the ‘bad’ things mentally ill people do are associated with their personal character. I think it’s unfair that nobody is paying more attention to Jesse Jackson’s mental illness.”

Jackson’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, said that Jackson’s “serious health issues” are “directly related to his present predicament,” Marimow wrote.

But many others aren’t buying that a mental disorder spurred Jackson to spend so.

During an interview with NPR’s Carrie Johnson, Melanie Sloan, who leads the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the Jacksons’ behavior is just out-and-out theft.

“Campaign funds are not meant to be spent on minks and Rolex watches,” Sloan said in the interview. “People donate money to campaigns so that members and candidates who share their values and ideas will be elected to Congress and then serve their interest.”

The Color of Money Question of the Week: “Was it all about the money for the Jacksons?” Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Jackson” in the subject line. Please include your name, city and state.

Live Discussion Today

Join me today at noon ET for my weekly online chat.

I will answer your financial questions and discuss the latest personal finance topics. If you can’t join the chat live, send your questions in early or read the archives later.

Celebrity Cash

And the rich and famous continue to fall financially.

TMZ.com reports that former NBA player Allen Iverson recently lost his Atlanta home to foreclosure after failing to pay the $1.2 million mortgage. The two-time MVP bought the $4.5 million home in 2010, but it was recently sold to the bank for $2.5 million.

Here are some of Iverson’s other outstanding debts:

-- Last year, Iverson was sued by A&C Jeweler and had to pay nearly $860,000 in a default judgment because he failed to show up for court.

-- Iverson reportedly owes his divorce attorney more than $60,000 in legal fees. Jonathan Levine said he has yet to be paid for his service from 2012, reported TMZ.com.

-- In March 2011, while playing for the Denver Nuggets, Iverson stopped paying on his $3.8 million mansion in Colorado. The home eventually went into foreclosure, according to the Denver Post.

A mother’s love

In a recent Amy Ask column, advice columnist Amy Dickinson responded to a mother worried about the lack of ambition by her son.

In her letter to Dickinson, the mother said that her 21-year-old son spent his first year in college on academic probation and failed every class. He moved back home and got the same full-time job at a fast-food place that he had when he was in high school. He is taking management classes at the fast-food restaurant and one online class.

“As parents, should we encourage him to further his education or to seek different employment? Or do we simply stand back and let him grow up on his own? I know things could be much worse; I just wish he had more motivation,” the mother wrote.

How would you advise this mother?

Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “A mother’s love” in the subject line.

Family Financial Fights

This year, I started a feature in which I answer questions from people who were in financial disagreements with family members. So, what about you?

Has a financial decision adversely affected your relationship with a family member? If so, tell me what happened, and I’ll give you some advice.

Send your story to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Family Financial Fights” in the subject line.

Here is one of the recent features.

2013 Tax Season

Vince Horiuchi of the Salt Lake Tribune has put together an interesting list of some apps for the tax season.

“Your tablet and even your smartphone can help you maneuver through the labyrinth that is the tax code,” Horiuchi wrote.

For example, TaxCaster by TurboTax will tell you how much your refund will be. It also can figure out ahead of time the outcomes if you take more money for taxes out of each paycheck or if you instead pay less each check.

The IRS also has an app, IRS2Go. The app delivers video from the IRS YouTube channel to your mobile device.

State of the Union’s Middle Class Promise

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What are your thoughts on the promises of prosperity for the middle class?”

In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he stressed the importance of strengthening the middle class. “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class,” he said.

“It’s very simple,” wrote Joe Shocket of Richmond. “If you bring all the manufacturing jobs back to this country there will be plenty of middle class jobs in the United States.”

Jan Hyatt of Severna Park, Md., wrote: “You can send more people to college, raise the minimum wage, create more service jobs, but the main problem will stay the same. Those at the bottom will not get ahead because those at the top are taking a bigger share of the pie and see no benefit in helping out those at the bottom.”

“Like Sen.[Marco] Rubio (and the president), I believe that simplifying the tax code is a good thing, and I believe that simplification and realignment of the tax code will help improve the lot of the average American, bringing prosperity would be nice, but that may be over optimistic,” wrote Derek Freyberg of Menlo Park, Calif.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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