As election day 2010 draws near, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the more colorful bits of American political history. From taking bribes to engaging in illegal sexual activity, scandals have rocked Congress since its inception. Simply put, scandal is an important thread that runs through our entire American history. And despite how outrageous and disgusting many of these congressional scandals are, you might be shocked to learn that many of these Congressmen continued to serve and were reelected even after their atrocious behavior came to light.
- Rep. Dan Sickles kills Phillip Barton Key—If you’re wondering why the name Phillip Barton Key sounds kind of familiar, it’s because he’s the son of the writer of “The Star Spangled Banner.” He was also involved in an affair with Rep. Dan Sickles wife in 1859. When Sickles found out about the affair, he forced his wife to sign a confession, and he then shot and killed Key when Key came over for a rendezvous. Sickles was acquitted, introducing us to the concept of temporary insanity.
- ABSCAM FBI sting takes out eight members of Congress—During the 1970s, the FBI conducted a sting operation named ABSCAM. FBI agents posed as fictitious sheiks who tried to bribe various members of Congress. The sting operation led to convictions of seven members of Congress. Another lawmaker, Rep. John Murtha, was videotaped agreeing to help the sheiks, but he didn’t accept a bribe and wasn’t indicted.
- Barney Frank’s prostitution ring—Long before he was caught up in the middle of the subprime mortgage crisis, Barney Frank was making headlines for a different, much seedier reason. In 1989, Frank admitted to having a lengthy relationship with a male hooker who was running a prostitution service out of Frank’s apartment. Despite his ties to the illegal activities, Frank has been reelected to Congress ever since.
- Rep. Fred Richmond pleads guilty to multiple federal charges—Fred Richmond had a heck of a run in Congress. In 1978, he was arrested for soliciting sex from a 16 year old delivery boy and an undercover police officer. But this didn’t take him down. He continued to serve as a Congressman until 1982 when he pled guilty to tax evasion and other federal charges.
- Sen. Kennedy drives car off bridge, woman drowns—It was July 1969. Senator Edward Kennedy offered a 28 year old secretary a ride home from a party. What took place in the car has never been fully explained, but what we do know if that Kennedy’s car went off a bridge and was submerged under water. Kennedy got out of the car, fled the scene, and didn’t report the accident until the next morning. The woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, died from drowning. Kennedy apologized, and continued to be reelected for decades until his recent death.
- Congressional page sex scandal rocks Congress in 1983—The 1983 Congressional page sex scandal was just another black eye for Congress. The House Ethics Committee recommended that Rep. Dan Crane and Rep. Gerry Studds be reprimanded for engaging in sex with minors who were congressional pages. Studds continued to be reelected until he retired in 1997.
- Mark Foley’s 2006 instant messenger page scandal–Foley resigned in 2006 after more than 10 years representing Florida’s 16th district. Foley was caught sending inappropriate sexual instant messages to teenage male congressional pages.
- Rep. Hays hires unqualified secretary for sex acts–In 1976, Rep. Wayne Hays’s mistress told the Washington Post about her story of working for Hays. She said Hays hired her as a secretary even though, as she put it, “I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone.” As it turns out, Hays didn’t hire her for her secretarial skills. He hired her to have sex with him and his friends. All the while, she was paid the going rate for a Congressional secretary. That’s taxpayer money of course.
- Mel Reynolds convicted in teen-sex scandal—Congressman Mel Reynolds was convicted of 12 charges, including having sex with a 16 year old and asking her to take pornographic pictures of her 15 year old friend. He was sentenced to prison, but was later pardoned by President Clinton and hired by Jesse Jackson. As Snopes so beautifully puts it “An ex-Congressman who had sex with a subordinate won clemency from a President who had sex with a subordinate, then was hired by a clergyman who had sex with a subordinate.” Only in America.
- Rep. Tom Delay resigns under indictment for money laundering—Tom Delay resigned from his position as House majority leader after he was indicted for money laundering. He was caught funneling corporate money into elections where corporate donations are banned. He still hasn’t gone to trial.
Are there any missing that you feel should have made the list?