If Jackson takes a plea deal, as has been reported, he has lost so much - and for what?
You have to shake your head when you read the things he purchased. According to a property list detailed in a court document, he spent:
* $5,000 on fur capes and parkas.
* $9,588 for children's furniture.
* $26,700 for Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a $4,600 fedora.
* $10,105 for Bruce Lee memorabilia.
* $11,130 for Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia.
* $2,200 for Malcolm X memorabilia.
* $2,775 for Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.
* $43,350 for a Rolex watch.
* $5,000 for a football signed by American presidents.
Was Jackson, the son of civil-rights activist Jesse L. Jackson, trying to appear wealthy by any means necessary? Were the Jacksons eager to impress their wealthier colleagues or the people who run with them in their circle of power and privilege?
For many people, it can be hard to resist the urge to pretend that you're rich when you're around so many people who are truly wealthy. I'm not making an excuse for his behavior - I'm just making an observation.
For years, Roll Call has ranked the 50 richest members of Congress based on their required annual personal financial-disclosure forms. The ranking shows that Capitol Hill has lots of multimillionaires. Topping the current list is Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, with a net worth of more than $300 million. McCaul's wealth increased significantly in 2010, when he disclosed that his wife, Linda McCaul, the daughter of Clear Channel Communications founder and chief executive Lowry Mays, had received "certain assets" as gifts from her parents.
But "legislators range from the superrich to the deep-in-debt, from inherited wealth to married wealth to no wealth at all," according to an examination of congressional finances by the Washington Post. "You would find that, contrary to many popular perceptions, lawmakers don't get rich by merely being in Congress."
Ironically, Jackson and his father in 1999 co-authored a book on personal finance, It's About the Money!: How You Can Get Out of Debt, Build Wealth, and Achieve Your Financial Dreams. "Many of our churches breed material needs, as do many of our public schools, with peer pressure to buy expensive clothing," the Jacksons wrote.
I was critical of the portions of the book in which the Jacksons found it necessary to chide blacks for what they characterize as shameless spending. The recent charges against Jackson said that he used credit cards issued to his campaign to make purchases for personal expenses. And then he arranged to have funds from the campaign be used to pay the credit-card bills.
At least the Jacksons are showing remorse. Although the younger Jackson took a medical leave last summer for treatment of bipolar disorder, his statement following the federal charges indicated a man blaming not his illness but bad judgment.
"Over the course of my life, I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties," he said. "Still, I offer no excuses for my conduct, and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made."
Dan Webb and Tom Kirsch, attorneys for Sandra Jackson, issued the following statement: "Ms. Jackson has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family."
There's a lesson in the downfall of the Jacksons that none of us should miss. It's important to recognize when you have real net worth that allows you to buy extravagant stuff and when you're living beyond your means. Before you pass judgment on the Jacksons, think about the mess you might have made of your finances or the financial follies of people you know. It might not be a crime to get what you want (not what you need), but acting as if you are rich without being able to afford it can ruin your life.