The American public elects its politicians to represent their best interest in the halls of government. Unfortunately, the best of ideas can be derailed by the dubious specter of corruption. While our government’s officials are entrusted with a duty to honorably serve, this is not always the case. Politicians are routinely caught with their hands (and other things) in the cookie jar. Sometimes, they just take the entire jar! Here are 10 of the most crooked politicians in American politics.
10. William Marcy Tweed (Boss Tweed)
Any politician with a moniker of “Boss Tweed” has to be at the top of the list. But this guy’s rap sheet doesn’t end with a flashy name. Boss Tweed was a major political figure in New York in the mid to late 1800’s. During that time, his activities would become the template of what political corruption is. Mr. Tweed began his political career as a New York alderman and was soon after elected to a term of congress. By the end of his term in congress, he had become a major player in the Tammany Society, which was the political apparatus in New York City. Over the next decade, Tweed would hold various local political positions. During this time, he co-opted several other New York officials, including the mayor, and formed the aptly named “Tweed Ring” to control the city. During his rise to power; Mr. Tweed bought votes for himself and his cronies, engaged in playing of judges for favorable rulings, and of course, stole money. Essentially, he controlled New York City. Reports vary, but it is believed that Tweed embezzled and otherwise cost the city of New York $25 to $200 million. Mr. Tweed and his “gang” were eventually brought down in 1871 and sent to prison.
9. Congressman Vernon Buchanan
When it comes to corruption, the allegations against Mr. Buchanan run the gamut of illicit activity. We are talking about fraud, criminal retaliation and conspiracy, to list just a few. It is alleged that Mr. Buchanan forced employees that worked for his car dealership and Sarasota 500 Corp to contribute to reelection campaigns with the threat of being fired if they didn’t. The employees were then reimbursed in their company paychecks and with company “bonuses”. But wait, there’s more. Despite the white hot issue of illegal immigration taking place in the halls of congress, Mr. Buchanan is alleged to have knowingly used illegal (or at least undocumented) immigrants to build his posh home and to work in his car dealerships. It gets worse. Not to be deterred by the blatant violation of federal coercion and election laws, it also appears that Mr. Buchanan was party to just plain criminal activity. The congressman’s car dealerships would routinely falsify sales contracts for loans with financial institutions (referred to power booking). Customers were subjected to all types of hidden costs, such as being charged for free warranties. In conjunction with this, the dealerships participated in obtaining fraudulent loans by falsifying loan application for applicants who did not qualify. Naturally, when these allegations came to light, Mr. Buchanan professed total ignorance despite the fact that financial institutions are required by law to notify the owner of the car dealerships of all transactions in writing.
8. Governor George Ryan
Illinois politics are scandalous. Mr. Ryan served as the governor for just one term and managed to make an indelible mark on the legacy that is Illinois politics. What started as a tragic accident in a neighboring state would turn into an explosive scandal that would send the former governor to prison. Dubbed the “license for bribes” scandal, this series of events began in 1994 while Mr. Ryan was the Illinois Secretary of State. It started with a terrible vehicle accident in the city of Milwaukee. Six people were killed and a number of people seriously injured. Subsequent investigations into the accident turned up a number of irregularities. The driver of the car, for example, did not speak English, yet possessed a valid Illinois drivers license. It was determined the driver had more than likely paid a bribe for the license. This kicked off an investigation that would span eight years and target the secretary of state’s office and which would, in fact, reveal that the office did indeed provide licenses to unqualified drivers for a price. A key point to this investigation is that Mr. Ryan attempted to use his office to stop it. With eyes turned toward the governor, it was discovered that Mr. Ryan was involved in quite a bit more than meets the eye. After an exhaustive investigation, the federal government indicted Mr. Ryan on 22 felony charges. These included: bribery, racketeering, money laundering, tax fraud, and of course, extortion. It seems that Mr. Ryan didn’t have a problem of directing state contracts to the hands of loyal friends who directed finances to his campaign, or using campaign funds for his own personal use. After a lengthy trial, Mr. Ryan was convicted on all 22 counts.
7. Governor Rod Blagojevich
Another former governor of Illinois makes this list. Mr. Blagojevich has taken his notoriety to new heights and has actually cashed in on it by making several high profile television appearances, including being contestant on Donald Trump’s show, “The Apprentice”. Once could say that Mr. Blagojevich is simply a guy who likes to take advantage of a business opportunity when it occurs. This government says that the former governor was involved in a number of “pay to play” schemes that were, of course, against the law. The most visible of these allegations was the governor’s attempt to basically sale the vacant senate seat of Barack Obama to the highest bidder. The evidence against Mr. Blagojevich was so damning (including wiretapped voice recordings of the governor specifically discussing the fact that he wanted to get something out of the opportunity to appoint someone to the senate seat) that the Illinois state legislature not only impeached him, but also barred him from ever holding public office in the future. On the federal front, Mr. Blagojevich was indicted on 23 felony charges, though only found guilty of one – lying to federal investigators. The US district attorney plans to retry the governor.
6. Senator Mitch McConnell
The old saying, “it pays to know the right people,” is certainly true when it comes to ole’ Mitch. Really, the senator is a guy who knows how to take care of his friends. True loyalty is a trait that is hard to come by and Mr. McConnell went to great lengths to show that he remembered those individuals who have assisted him. Take, for example, the senator’s former chief of staff Gordon Bates. After serving with the senator and an unsuccessful bid into politics, Mr. Bates started a lobbying firm (Bates Capitol Group, LLC). Almost immediately, the Bates Group became a very successful enterprise. In fact, one client in particular spelled it, stating that the senator expressly remarked that he should hire the Bates Group because the senator could definitely work with them. A trend began to develop. Clients of the Bates Group would soon find favorable legislation enacted in their favor. The senator would earmark millions of dollars for clients of the Bates Group. Naturally, all of these companies made significant campaign contributions. For the senator and his pal Bates, it was a win-win situation for all concerned.
5. Congressman Charles Rangel
In an ironic twist of fate, the man who chaired the congressional committee responsible for federal tax policy got into trouble for not paying his own taxes. Mr. Rangel stated he didn’t remember to pay taxes on $75,000 he earned from property he owned. But the buck (pun intended) doesn’t stop there. Oh no! Once the eye of the media and the House Ethics Committee turned towards Mr. Rangel’s activities, the congressman decided he had to amend his required financial disclosure reports. And guess what? It seems that Mr. Rangel had once again forgotten to report some of the cash he had laying around – about $1 million in fact! It was also alleged that Mr. Rangel used his congressional influence to obtain favorable treatment in the purchase of highly coveted rent controlled property in New York and he improperly raised funds for his Rangel Center. Mr. Rangel, however, felt that all of this exposure was unnecessary and wanted it to go away. The best way to go about this, he figured, is to “convince” his colleagues in congress to drop the ethics investigation. To this end, Mr. Rangel contributed to the reelection campaigns of 119 fellow congressmen and women, including a number of members who were investigating him. Unfortunately for him, none of this was successful, and Mr. Rangel was eventually censored by Congress for his activities.
4. Vice-President Spiro Agnew
Among other issues, Mr. Agnew is only the second vice-president of the United States to resign his office (the other person being John Calhoun in 1832). Interestingly enough, Mr. Agnew’s problems didn’t have anything to do with the Watergate scandal that would eventually rock the White House and lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. No, Mr. Agnew’s troubles were more of the ordinary criminal kind. The U.S. Department of Justice began investigating Mr. Agnew for tax fraud, extortion, conspiracy and bribery. This investigation led to felony charges that Mr. Agnew accepted bribes related to his time as the governor of Maryland (the office he held prior to becoming vice-president of the US). The political fallout of a vice-president on the take was too much for the White House, nor did Mr. Agnew want to face a public trial. As a result, Mr. Agnew resigned his office and pled no contest to tax evasion. It subsequently revealed that Mr. Agnew did in fact receive monetary bribes in the amount of $147,000 while he was the governor of Maryland, with at least $17,000 of this sum received while after he assumed office as vice-president.
3. Rep. Maxine Waters
Mrs. Waters is guilty of loving her husband. She loves him so much, in fact, that she apparently didn’t mind using the authority and influence of her office to help him out in his time of need. It seems that Mrs. Walter’s husband owns stock in a certain bank hat was facing some financial difficulties during the recent banking fiasco. Said bank, unfortunately, did not meet the criteria needed to receive governmental financial assistance under the TARP plan. The smoking gun, as it were, seems to be that this particular bank that Mrs. Water’s husband has stock in and is a member of the board, is the only institution to have received government funds through a specific provision in the law. Oops! There is also evidence that Mrs. Water’s husband received payment for consulting from lobbyist who stood to benefit from legislation that the representative was pushing through congress. For some, love has no bounds – not even the law.
2. Governor Ray Blanton
“Pardon me, please!” Oh, that was not in the term of “Excuse me, please” this was in the term of “My Daddy has helped you through hard times so I am sure you can pardon my sins to the community and set me free.” This was the first case that was under scrutiny for Mr. Ray Blanton, Governor of Tennessee (1975) where he pardon criminals and had them released back into the society. During his term in office he pardoned 24 convicted murders and another 28 prisoners that were charged for an array of criminal activity. Apparently, the salary a Tennessee governor did not pay the bills so Blanton had to resort to taking payments for pardons. Mr. Blanton did not re-run for another term and in fact, the Lieutenant Governor decided to have his successor sworn in three days earlier than normal to avoid any further pardons.
1. Senator Budd Dwyer
January 22, 1987 was a sight that no one wanted to see. With cameras rolling the press was eager to learn what the punishment was going to be for Senator Budd Dwyer when he committed suicide by gunshot to the head on air. Budd Dwyer had been found guilty of a number of political corruption counts. He was charged with accepting a rather larger campaign donation for exchange of a multi-million dollar contract with a computer company for the state of Pennsylvania, 5 counts of mail fraud, 4 counts of inter-state transportation in aiding racketeering, and 1 count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Mr. Dwyer was facing 55 years of prison and hefty fines. I guess the guilt got to him before prison did when he decided to end his life.