Bribery is generally viewed in a negative context. There are different levels of bribery, of course. Convincing your child to be quiet by giving them candy is a different bribe than paying off the local police so you can continue to run a drug empire. Shades of gray, you might call it.
Despite the mostly negative association we have with the act of paying someone to achieve some kind of desirable outcome for yourself, there have been times when bribes turned out great. In fact, once in a while, bribes end up supporting a very good cause.
10. Geddy Lee’s Parents Were at Auschwitz, Where His Father Bribed Guards to Give Gifts to His Mother
For many people of a certain generation, the band Rush qualifies as Canada’s greatest contribution to the world of rock ‘n’ roll and it’s hard to deny they had a great impact on music, even years later. Their late drummer Neil Peart is still considered one of the best in history.
Lead singer Geddy Lee is well known for his songwriting and his unique vocals but he has a fascinating history as well. Lee’s parents were born in Poland and hadn’t even entered their teens when the Second World War broke out. Both of them were taken to Auschwitz, just after they’d met, at around age 12.
Germans separated prisoners in the camps by sex so the two could only see each other but not spend time together. Lee’s father would bribe the guards to ensure that Lee’s mother had things she needed, like pairs of shoes.
Eventually they were split up and sent to different camps. At war’s end, Lee’s father found his mother at Bergen-Belsen and they actually got married in the camp, which by then was a “displaced person’s camp.” Later they moved to Canada and started a family.
There’s no way to know if bribing the guards had any effect on the eventual outcome but there’s little doubt Lee’s father made a nightmare at least a little more tolerable for his mother as a result.
9. Kevin Bacon Bribes Wedding DJs to Not Play Footloose
Kevin Bacon holds a unique place in pop culture. He’s the only actor ever to be the basis of a game that seeks to link literally anyone in the world to him in as few connections as possible. But he’s also been a well-liked actor since the 1980s and has appeared in many memorable roles. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that any of them are more well known than his role in Footloose and it’s likely Bacon would agree.
The movie Footloose also gave the world the song Footloose, which was written by singer Kenny Loggins in collaboration with the screenwriter Dean Pitchford. The song is very much tied to the film as a result and, in turn, to Kevin Bacon and the role he played.
Now that the movie and song are decades old, Bacon has had his fill. To avoid further contact with it in public, Bacon has admitted to bribing DJs at weddings to not play the song in his presence. That way the pressure to re-enact his famous Footloose dance sequence doesn’t have to weigh on his shoulders or make a scene on someone else’s special day. So what does it set Bacon back to avoid a blast from his musical past? A crisp $20 bill.
8. NY Transit Authorities Were Bribed $40,000 by French Connection Director William Friedkin
The 1971 film The French Connection won an Oscar for director William Friedkin and, to this day, is lauded for the incredible car chase scene. The movie was the definition of guerrilla filmmaking which, if you’re not familiar, means it wasn’t entirely legal or safe in its execution.
The infamous car chase takes place on the streets of New York at speeds up to 90 miles an hour. So what, right? Well, Friedkin didn’t have any permits or permission to do that so it was a real car driving in real traffic at that speed. There were other actors involved, and efforts made to limit danger, but most of that traffic was just normal drivers going about their day.
The chase involves a subway train on an overhead track and that wasn’t legally in the film, either. Friedkin bribed someone from NY Transit with $40,000 and a ticket to Jamaica to escape punishment after the fact. According to Friedkin that was a massive part of the budget. The transit official took his payoff and literally moved to Jamaica.
The result of the bribe is one of the best car chase scenes ever and a fantastic, critically acclaimed film.
7. Antoine Augustin Parmentier Let Thieves Bribe His Potato Guards to Popularize the Food
How do you convince people to eat something they don’t want to eat? For most people the answer probably involves cheese sauce, but back in the late 1700s Antoine Augustin Parmentier had to be more creative in his quest to get people to try potatoes.
When potatoes first came to Europe they were shunned. At best they were considered animal feed, but Parmentier was a visionary who saw the tuber’s potential. Still, he needed to convince everyone that they’d misjudged the potato. After serving dinners for the upper class, he came up with a clever ruse to get the average citizen on board as well..
Parmentier paid guards to protect his potato crop. This would make people believe the crop had some value they weren’t aware of. But he also paid those guards to take bribes from thieves and let them take the potatoes because nothing is more desirable than something you’re told you can’t have. His plan worked and potatoes became a staple of the French diet.
6. Cops in Thailand are Bribed to Not Accept Bribes
Law enforcement is far from infallible and this is a worldwide truth. Corruption is rampant on many levels and in Thailand, bribing police is incredibly common. Corruption has been described as “ingrained” in Thailand. Tourist blogs even tell you to “tip” Thai police and then clarify that it’s not technically a bribe but, you know, it is.
Traffic police in Thailand are the most well known for taking part in this culture of bribery as traffic in Thailand, in general, is a nightmare. So if police pull a driver over for speeding or failing to signal, the driver can often get out of a fine by slipping the cop a few buckets to supplement their notoriously low salary. The problem got so bad that the Thai government started bribing police to not accept bribes.
Any government officials in Thailand who accept bribes are officially subject to potentially facing life in prison. So the 2014 rule to offer rewards of up to 10,000 Thai baht, or about $280 USD, was seen as a much better alternative.
5. Simon and Garfunkel’s First Single Aired on Radio Thanks to the Payola System
Simon and Garfunkel have sold tens of millions of albums over their career and stand as one of the most popular duos of all time. That fame had to start somewhere, of course, and the pair needed to get their foot in the door. That meant bribery.
Their first single “Hey, Schoolgirl” was recorded when the guys were just 15. It was released as a single in 1957 but it needed airplay. Their label bribed DJ Alan Freed $200 to get him to play the song on his nightly radio show and it quickly moved into regular rotation, kicking off the band’s career.
4. George Washington Bribed Voters with Booze
Political bribery is one of the most infamous kinds of bribery out there and it’s something we try to keep control of, or at least we pretend to. Whether it’s true or not, no one likes to have to admit that their government officials are bought, so most democracies make a show of being against such things.
Back in the day, maybe the rules were a little more lax and maybe some low key bribes were a little more tolerable. For instance, while a stack of cash might have been frowned upon, surely a few drinks between friends wasn’t.
George Washington believed that a buzzed electorate was a supportive electorate and his first election win was attributed to supplying 144 gallons of various kinds of booze to voters. After losing an earlier election that he ran dry, he took advantage of the local pubs to bribe the voters with a half gallon of drink for every vote he received, which was enough to get him into office.
3. Lincoln Bribed Congressmen with Patronage to Support Anti-Slavery
Many people would likely list Lincoln among the best presidents of all time. His legacy is of not just a hell of a dresser but the Great Emancipator and a stand up sort of guy. But that didn’t mean he was above greasing the wheels of anti-slavery with some bribes to reach his goals. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty if you want to make good things happen.
In Lincoln’s case, he wasn’t doling out cash necessarily, but he had a way with patronage. In order to get support for his anti-slavery positions, Lincoln had to make promises. We call it patronage because that sounds fairly civilized, but it’s bribes. Lincoln promised favors and lucrative appointments to congressmen and others in key positions if they agreed to support him. This was done through proxies and he didn’t necessarily deal with anyone directly but the effect was the same.
2. The Bacon Memes Were the Result Of Pork Industry Bribes
If you’ve been online since at least 2009, this will seem like a betrayal of everything you hold dear. Remember when bacon was a meme? For a short while you couldn’t swing a cat on the internet without hitting some kind of bacon something. The LA Times wrote articles about it and bacon-infused products like bacon soap and bacon vodka were sold all over the place.
What seemed like it might have been a weirdly obsessive but organic love of cured meat that soon became annoying overkill was nothing of the sort. This was a pre-planned pork attack on all of us, funded by piggy bribes.
The health food craze of the 80s gutted the pork industry. Pork bellies used to be a reliable commodity, and they tanked brutally because no one wanted to eat salty, fatty things anymore. So the Pork Board set to work on restaurants, trying to convince them to produce new dishes that used bacon to “enhance” flavor.
Because bacon was so cheap, restaurants took to it quickly, especially with pork industry lobbyists paying to get it out there. It was an easy way to make bad food taste like something at a low cost. This gave rise to things like Wendy’s Baconator and like-minded fast food offerings. That spread to food bloggers and then to novelty sites that would offer a range of quirky bacon offerings in an over-the-top effort to make a buck off the concept.
1. England Spent $200 Million in Bribes to Keep Spain Out of WWII
There’s a bit of hyperbole involved in the name “World War” since the entire world was not involved in either war. A handful remained neutral, and it’s very debatable how neutral they remained, but officially they were not meant to be involved. One of the largest countries to hold this status was Spain.
You could make a case that if Spain was an active participant in the war, a lot of battles would have gone differently, but the reason they remained on the sidelines was almost strictly business. The fact that England paid out $200 million in bribes was a big part of that.
Spain assured Britain that the country was in danger of siding with the Nazis unless cash kept flowing, so money sent through Swiss accounts was paid out. The money was alleged to have gone towards arresting various parties who would be trying to convince Franco to join on Hitler’s, but there’s no way to know how true that might have been.