Snow-white’s evil stepmother asked “Mirror, mirror, who is the fairest of them all?” We ask about politicians: “Mirror, mirror, who is the wickedest of them all?” The mirror in our tale might answer “Define wicked” or perhaps “How so?” With so many different kinds of wicked people around: how do you choose one politician over another? That is the question of this essay.

In poll after poll, the people voice their disgust and frustration with the wicked men and women they elect to office. The obvious but unanswerable question, of course, is – why elect such deadbeats in the first place? How come every one elected almost immediately joins the least trusted class on earth? Are many politicians incompetent scoundrels by birth or just an average bunch of people with their share of losers, criminals and maybe a winner or two? Is one gang of politicians “better” than some other gang beyond the bias of equally fanatic followers and opponents?


Are Politicians More Corrupt Than The Average Joe?

About 511,000 elected US politicians serve over 85,000 different governments. These governments provide a livelihood for anywhere from 6 to 17 million people, depending on how you count and who you believe. Breaking down the elected politicians (figuratively), 540 fill the US Congress and 2 the executive branch: the President and VP. 18,800 serve in the 50 state governments and a staggering 491,000 populate various offices locally such as mayors’ offices, city councils and the like. Government Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew electioncertainly is a big business.

Doing a bit of math, with which I shan’t bore you, this extrapolates to around 1 million elected politicians in the 218 years since 1789. Considering the typical crime rate in the population as a whole and corrected for the mostly white collar crimes we are interest in, about 20,000 of the 1 million likely would have criminal inclinations. That breaks down to about 50 criminal politicians on the federal level and some 1,000 in state government and no less than 19,000 in local government.

The analysis of this post is based on an updated and reworked version of the excellent “Political Graveyard” web site which lists, with some additions, corrections and updates, 547 disgraced US politicians going all the way back to the late 1700s. Of those, only about 60 on the federal level were convicted of a crime and subject to some significant punishment, usually prison. Add 50 convicts on the state level and 62 locally for a total of 172. The remaining 375 individuals received only minor punishment, were acquitted or got off free in some other manner.

Identified Vs. Expected Offenders




Identified in database as convicted, punished




Expected from the general, typical crime rate




The number of identified federal offenders (60) is about what one would expect given the typical crime rate (50). In state and local government, the database identifies too few culprits to draw any conclusion. There is no evidence federal politicians are more criminal than average people. However, as you’ll see, the damages from crimes by the federal politician tend to be far greater than those of an average Joe.

The picture above is a campaign poster for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Both were to resign in disgrace, one for ethical and criminal charges and the other to avoid impeachment for Watergate cover-ups. The Good and the Bad, both reside in the database used in this post – details below.


Images in the post

This post contains an abundance of images as do practically all of my posts. After all, the blog is titled a “Photo Blog” and I happen to be a pro photographer. Many posts contain my own photos – this one does not. A series of factual graphs illustrate the points made – all of which are Robert Frank - In the Deli based on proprietary databases. The rest of the images are in two categories. First, some pictures serve as journalistic style illustrations related to the subjects covered. The picture below of a beaming Wilbur Mills with his Argentine Firecracker is a good example.

The second category is a bit different. I’ve chosen a series of photos from Robert Frank’s “Americans” collection (book) from the 1950s. To me, this is one of the most stunning documentation ever published of people in America – which is a good reason to include it. The real reason I included it is that I wanted to point out that politics is supposed to be in favor of the people. It is easy to forget that, especially if you are a politician that crossed the line. As a matter of fact, it is easy for a blogger to forget what this is all about in favor of a brief moment of fame based on some cheap point.

It’s about people, stupid.


The Tale of Two Photos

About the first of the two photos: Does anyone remember Wilbur Mills these days? A US Representative from 1939 to 1977, he was the menace of Washington DC females of all colors, shapes Wilbur Mills having a good timeand professions. Liking his spirits, he cut quite a lively picture in the DC social life.

On October 7th, 1974, he gained true fame because of a somewhat rocky relationship with Argentine stripper Fannie Foxe (aka The Argentine Firecracker). That very night, being driven through DC, his car was stopped due to no headlights being on. As the cop approached, Fannie jumped out of the car and hopped into a nearby Tidal Basin. Wilbur, drunk as a skunk, remained in the car, fingering the scratches on his face.

Fannie eventually climbed out of the Basin; Wilbur temporarily sobered up enough to enjoy a 60% reelection by the good, not to mention open minded, people of Arkansas. But Fanniegate wasn’t over. Wilbur was soon forced to step down from his seat after staggering onto the stage of a Boston club where Fannie did her act, creating a bit of unfortunate turmoil. Allegedly, he later joined the AA. It’s not known what happened to Fannie except there are indeed some rumors involving the Kennedy’s.

The second picture shows Marion Barry, then mayor of Washington DC, take a hit of cocaine on Jan. 18, 1990. Marion was not yet aware he was the target of a monumental sting operation run by the FBI and DC Police. He was soon to find out.

The stingers took the picture using a Marion Barry getting stingedsurveillance camera set up in a DC hotel room where Marion met with a girl friend. Once they had the evidence, police and agents stormed the room. Marion was arrested, exclaiming “Goddamn setup… I’ll be goddamn. Bitch set me up!”

Charged with 14 drug related offenses, he was convicted on one charge. He had to step down from the mayor post and served six months in jail. He then returned to DC and clawed his way back into local politics.

His drug problems continued off and on till today. Even so, he remained, till today, powerful in DC politics, sometimes elected to various positions, sometimes not. He has been called “The Most Colorful Politician in America” and that is not because of his skin color.


Table of Content for this Post

Following are some introductory notes about these essays and this post in particular. If you hate such stuff and want the meat and potatoes right away, hit the bypass button below. If not, just keep going.

Bypass TOC

Here is a Table of Content (TOC) for your convenience, making it easy to move around and find what you are most interested in. There are TOC buttons throughout the post to lead you back here as needed. Also note the links in the menu on top of the post that gives you easy access to the TOC for the whole site and the RSS feeds. Enjoy!

The links below takes you to the different sections of this post. Click this link for other posts in the On Ethics essays. Use this link to establish a RSS link to this blog. Bookmark this post using the Bookmark button below.

About this series of essays

This is the 7th post in the Ethics series. Previous posts went through a wide selection of ethical questions and issues. Here are the main posts:Heading to jail

  • On Ethics 1: Just A Point Of View? This post kicked off the Ethics series. It starts with a street photography issue but quickly veers into philosophy as related to life and politics.
  • On Ethics 1A: Art and Descartes – What About It? This post discussed two reader questions: the first one dealt with a quote “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes. The second question asked who does one know what is art.
  • On Ethics 2: Ethics and Morals of Torture. Suddenly US policy condones the use of torture, one of many violations of human rights practiced by the Bush administration. This post takes a look at the ethical consequences of that fatal decision.
  • On Ethics 3: Clashes of Giants. Combining views on Ethics, Reality and Morals; the post covers ground from philosophy to torture with a bit of politics thrown in.
  • On Ethics 4: Violence of the Ivory Towers. Governments, here known as Ivory Towers, commit unspeakable acts of violence. The post looks at the justifications for different types of War from an ethical stand point.
  • On Ethics 5: Ivory Towers in Peace. Going from War to Peace, the post covers government influences, such as those of the Ten Commandments, the Geneva Conventions, Magna Carta, the UN, the Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming.
  • On Ethics 6: We the People. Having covered the lofty atmosphere of the Ivory Towers, here is a discussion of personal ethics, such as ethnics, race, racism, culture and religion.

The present 7th post covers another issue: the ethics of elected US law makers and politicians. This issue came to mind as I read an obscure comment on some blog stating that Democrats are far more corrupt than Republicans, referring to evidence on a site I never heard of: “The Political Graveyard”. Intrigued by the wealth of interesting information on this site and the desire to find out who is corrupted, I ended up spending quite a bit more time than I expected. The result is this post.


Lies, damn lies And Statistics

This section reveals shocking details and secrets about the data used in this post. If you don’t care, feel free to skip to the next section. Knowing a bit about the data might help understanding the conclusions.Alfredo Gonsalez in deep trouble

The Original Data

This post wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous amount of work put into the “Political Graveyard” web site. Lawrence Kestenbaum has done a phenomenal contribution over at least ten years. I only use a small part of the site’s information covering some 138,150 US politicians: the listing “Politicians Who Got into Trouble or Disgrace” of about 420 individual “troubled” politicians. The information was last updated in March 2005. The US election data comes from the records of the US Senate and Congress. The presidential data originated, mostly, from Dave Luid’s Presidential Election web site.

A Database, Updates and Additions

The Graveyard web site provides a plain listing of the “troubled” politicians. I needed a simple database so I could do some analysis. That means taking the listing and organizing it into standardized categories such as the politician’s name, life span, residence, party and position, reason for the “disgrace”, its severity and punishment if any.Bill Clinton gertting damnded

This naturally surfaced a lot of missing information which was added both to the existing information and as completely new entries. In particular, about 25% of the entries lacked party affiliation, crucial to my particular question. So I added a mechanism to allocate a party affiliation wherever missing. The mechanism is completely mechanical, building on the prevailing political climate at the time and in the state from where the politician came. If the state was solid Republican I simply assumed so was the politician in question. Currently, the database contains complete information on 547 politicians.

Analytical Ideas

The most important analytical issue was attempting to make comparing the crime of one politician to Torture suddenly part of policyanother as fair as possible. The result is a ranking of each individual composed of three weights. The first weight is the level at which the individual served. Fair or not, a US Senator’s crime has a higher weight than that of a dog catcher in Crawford, TX. The second weight is the actual crime itself. Murder is more serious than refusing to wear a tie. The third weight is the level of punishment suffered. A conviction followed by jail has a much higher weight than losing the next election or being pardoned. Being acquitted, for instance, nullifies the whole entry in terms of “disgrace”.

The result is an index for each politician and his crime (out of 547 entries, less than 10 are women) that is fairer than just saying that being on this list is a crime, acquitted or not. Most, not all, of the graphs in this post are derived from these indices.


General Elections and Presidential Sins

In a US presidential election, the candidate that secures the most votes in a state wins that state. No one is in second place. Each state has a number of electoral votes – more in a large populous state then in smaller states with fewer people. The next president is the candidate supported by the most electoral votes. This post and its database use electoral votes to approximate relative size of the states. The following two graphs sums up the number of states won by each party, ignoring electoral votes.

State Wins By Party 1789-2004

The US conducted 55 presidential elections from 1789 to 2004 with 42 presidents taking office. In 1789, there were 10 states voting, today 50 states plus DC vote. In total, 2081 state level elections for the US presidency split into 946 state wins for Republicans, 856 for Democrats and 179 for the 10 small or short term parties.

However even that the distribution may be between Democrats and Republicans, what counts is the balance at each election with the winner taking it all although, of course, we may have different parties winning in the Senate, Congress and the White House or indeed gubernator races and state governments.. Such is the situation in 2007. The Democratic Congress presented a bill to the Republican White House containing time limits on the US involvement in Iraq. Bush vetoed the bill and neither party can impose their wishes, requiring some form of compromise across party lines.

State Wins By Party Over Time

Up till 1950, the Democrats’ fortunes rose rapidly. That was the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1930s, followed by a united wartime country. Before that, Woodrow Wilson was theLyndon B. Johnson with Richard Russel strongest Democratic president in the 1870-1920 slots. After 1950 and Harry Truman, the Republicans largely took over, starting with Eisenhower, then Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the Bushes. It turned into an era of many failures, scandals and some successes. By 2007, the failure ratio reached higher than ever and government ethics hit new lows. The outlook sadly approaches frightening levels.

Here is a list to help with the next discussions about the doubtful ethics of recent presidents. The history challenged among us may not quite remember who was president when:

Harry S. Truman (D): 1945-1953; Dwight D. Eisenhower (R): 1953-1961; John F. Kennedy (D): 1961-1963; Lyndon B. Johnson (D): 1963-1969; Richard M. Nixon (R): 1969-1974; Gerald R. Ford (R): 1974-1977; James E. Carter (D): 1977-1981; Ronald W. Reagan (R): 1981-1989; George H. W. Bush (R): 1989-1993; William J. Clinton (D): 1993-2001; George W. Bush (R): 2001-2009.

The Sins of Presidents

Considering the period from the end of WWII to today, there is plenty of evidence of presidential lies and ethical challenges that mare the records: Harry Truman concealed the truth about the Hiroshima and Dwight Eisenhower in ConferenceNagasaki bombings by claiming: “The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” 215,000 mostly civilians were killed by the two bombs. His administration suffered from corruption, including the firing or forced resignations of 166 appointees in IRS.

Dwight Eisenhower famously lied on national TV about the U2 over flights of the Soviet Union just as a U2 was shot down over the Soviet Union. He started the covert CIA actions against Cuba, including authorization to kill Fidel Castro using exploding cigars and other creative devices.

Eisenhower made a good start on the nuclear arms race by advocating the only war the US should fight be all out nuclear hydrogen annihilation – even though he knew very well that would kill most Americans as well as most Soviets. His war plan said simply required “the simultaneous use of over 3,000 nuclear warheads against all communist countries”. Of course, he never told the American people or the international allies about that little secret.

John F. Kennedy wildly exaggerated his wartime PT boat successes. In the early 1950s, he was quite close to, and supported the McCarthy madness, including the mighty Senator himself. He concealed a John F. Kennedy The Lonliest Jobmajor drug dependency. Kennedy was a major Communist fear monger: he lied about a nonexistent Soviet threat: “We are now threatened with a missile gap that leaves us in a position of potentially grave danger.”

He very much avoided discussing his support of, and interference in, the Bay of Pigs disaster, claiming “I have previously stated and I repeat now that the United States intends no military intervention in Cuba.” His administration continued to plan Operations Northwood and Moongoose, both consisting on faked Cuban terrorist attacks on the US, followed by US retaliation.

Kennedy sent the Green Berets to Guatemala, eventually killing some 20,000 up till 1976 – continuing the long standing US policy to violently meddle in Central and Latin American countries. He sent the first significant troops to Vietnam. His acts contributed to the assassination of Vietnamese president Diem – earlier he favored Lyndon B. Johnson Sworn in on Airforce 1assassinations of Prime Minister Lumumba of the Congo and Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Continuously, ethical issues hurt his short presidency contradicting his cult status.

Lyndon Johnson, viewed as one of the most treacherous (or skilled as some view it) of politicians, misrepresented his WWII record, receiving a Silver Star for nothing. He claimed his great-great-grandfather died at the Alamo – although no doubt he had a great-great-grandfather, that person died nowhere close to the Alamo. He hid the frauds of his first election to the US Senate. He concealed the truth about the Kennedy assassination, altering key documents.

Johnson lied about the Tonkin Bay incident, using the fictitious event to escalate the Vietnam war dramatically: “As President and Commander in Chief it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against Lyndon B. Johnson in VietnamUnited States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.” There were no hostile acts in the Tonkin Bay by North Vietnam at that time, much less renewed hostilities. Hard to believe, but his extramarital sex life apparently beat both JFK and Bill Clinton heads down. The standing DC joke was “How can you tell when Lyndon is lying?” The answer: “When his lips move.”

Richard Nixon – Tricky Dick – started his career by lying about campaign slush funds. Later, he concealed support to overthrowing a legal government in Chile, resulting in several thousand political killings and some 30,000 incidences of torture. He lied about tax evasion, campaign contributions, harassments and wire tabs. He concealed many aspects of the Vietnam War, including expanding it into Laos and Cambodia. The Watergate cover up is an American landmark of the worst kind. He Richard Nixon on a Good Dayfamously claimed not to be a crook. He did make a cocker spaniel named Checkers famous.

Jimmy Carter lied about the Iran hostage crisis and his earlier relationship with the Shah. In spite of his pious character, his administration was not as snow-white: his OMB chief, Bert Lance, had to resign; the Chief of Staff, Scott Hamilton, was scrutinized by a special prosecutor. His deranged brother Billy not only invented his own beer but acted as a paid agent of Libya. Add Debategate and Abscam to the record.

Gerald Ford, one of the more inoffensive presidents in recent memory, pardoned Richard Nixon which was legal although not very ethical. Known for tumbling down airport ramps, a murderous golf game and endless SNL jokes, his administration, not to mention himself, was the cleanest in ages.

Ronald Reagan like many others falsified his war record: He claimed he was an Army photographer filming Nazi death camps – that never happened; he spent that war in Hollywood. He presided over and lied about the Iran-Contra affair: “We did not – repeat – did not trade weapons or anything else for hostagesRonald Reagan wins the Cold War – nor will we.” Later, foolishly: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by other’s recollections, not my own.” He was the president during most of the Nicaragua disaster where CIA and other US agencies went haywire, violating human rights and treaties, leading to a conviction in the International Court of Justice. He also reached fame for having 225 subordinates, such as Edward Meese, Michael Deaver, Samuel Pierce, James Watt and John Poindexter quitting in disgrace, being fired, arrested, indicted, convicted or in contempt of ethical standards.

Reagan also merrily stated: “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do” and “In England, if a criminal carried a gun, even though he didn’t use it, he was tried for first-degree murder and hung if he was found guilty”.

Reagan’s tax policy contributed to the Savings and Loans scandal at a cost of $150 billion to tax payers or as much as $500 billion as viewed by some. Over 1,000 savings and loan institutions failed, leading to the 1990-91 recession. Senators Cranston, Riegle and DeConcini lost their jobs due to their relationship George H. W. Bush Worries Not Prudentwith Charles Keating – John Glenn and John McCain had close calls.

George Bush Sr. lied about taxes (“Watch my lips”), the Iran-Contra affair (“Out of the loop”), political murders by Chilean assassins and Koreagate. He did not readily discuss his relationships with Saddam Hussein (“Not prudent”), the bin Laden family or controversial Sun Myung Moon, who incidentally also had relations with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nor does he touch on the many rumors of his involvement in virtually hundreds of scandals during his long tenure with CIA. His pardon of six Iran-Contra figures did not go over well. His betrayal of the Shiite Intifada uprising against Hussein right after the first Gulf War is truly shameful even by the Bush family standards.

Other Bush Sr. lies include showing crack cocaine props on national TV, claiming they were seized across the street from the White House. DEA had set up a teenage drug dealer who voiced: “Where the f**k is the White House?” Also, Bush claimed the Patriot missiles saved Israel by blowing away 41 of 42 incoming Scud missiles during the first Gulf War. One Scud was hit.

Bill Clinton also fantasized about war records: “I wound up just going through the lottery, and it was just a pure fluke that I was never called”. He had important recollections from his childhood: “Since I was a little boy, I’ve heard about the Iowa caucuses.” and “I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” Clinton went to England to avoid the draft, among Bill and Hillary Clinton - A Curious Marriageother evasive tactics. There were no Iowa caucuses when Clinton was a little boy. No black churches were ever burnt in Arkansas.

Clinton got caught in Monica Lewinsky (“I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”). Then there were various other ladies of fortune, cigars, land holdings, campaign contributions, stock affairs, the White House travel firings and who knows what else. Impeachment and disbarment followed. The Lincoln Bedroom sales were not generally admired. The mystery of Vince Foster’s suicide and the investigations of Ron Brown, Commerce Secretary remain foggy items. Then there was Chinagate, Pardongate, Filegate and Whitewater.

The Eventual Legacy of George W. Bush

George W. Bush is likely the least ethical and the most incompetent president ever. He lies about, distorts or hides anything not promoting his distorted world view (Wars on Terror, Terrorists, Iraq, the UN, the international justice system; the Constitution, various laws and treaties, Civil Rights, Afghanistan, Islam, Gays, Pro Choice, Stem Cells, Mexicans, Climate, Environment, Social Entitlements, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, China, the poor, the mentally ill, the disadvantaged, the middle class…..), self image (Decider, Commander Guy, Dictator, No Mistakes, Christian Crusader, War President….) and self interest (Power, Avoid War Criminal charges, George W. Bush Reverse GrinFinancial…..). Stubborn, blind sided, intolerant, inflexible and lacking curiosity, he does not even tolerate the advice of his dwindling supply of supporters. Blurring the Constitution on State-Church separation, he apparently prefers a joint venture with God to one with humans: “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” Modest, isn’t he.

His Vietnam (non)war record is hidden in deep smoke screens – joining the Texas National Guard was made possible by the power of his father, followed by a career in the Guard with illegally unfulfilled attendance. Later, he was accused of insider trading of Harken Energy stock. He is close to many implicated in the Enron scandal – Kenny Lay, for instance, was a major donor to Bush campaigns.

He misunderstands terrorism and how to fight it. He declared war on Islam believing Islam = Terrorism, successfully, as it turned out, in creating a spirited insurgent and terrorist response, killing thousands a month. As he said: “The United States of America is engaged in a war against an extremist group of folks”. Utterly failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan kill Americans on a daily basis, costing billions with zero benefit and a disastrous outlook. For example: “The BritishGeorge W. Bush Chin Up Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”; “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror”; and “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons.” All lies. No foundation in reality. Still mindlessly defended.

He is hard at work spreading nuclear arms all over the globe. Today, the issue is North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India and Israel. Tomorrow, it might be Lebanon, Syria, Alaska intuits, Congo, Parisian suburbs, Denmark and Ohio. He is destroying relations with China and Russia, losing long standing allies, insulting every one in the process. Every responsible leader wants the US out of Iraq, including his father, James Baker, most of Congress and the American people. He responds by increasing troop levels: “The solution to Iraq is more than a military mission. Precisely the reason why I sent more troops into Baghdad.”

He refuses to deal with Global Warming especially as his Supreme Court ordered him to do so and a united world demands it. He wants to drill for more oil domestically, increasing carbon emissions. He engages in a meaningless ethanol agreement with Brazil while keeping a huge tariff on Brazilian ethanol. His George W. Bush scofflesdomestic ethanol policy is controversial indeed as ethanol production requires more energy than produced and causes more pollution than gained. His own Generals are concerned Global Warming is a national security issue, not to mention the warnings of thousands of scientists and the UN. He directed the EPA to break pollution laws. He ordered EPA scientists to falsify climate data and lie to the world, including Congress.

Bush continues his attempts to dismantle the Geneva Conventions in favor of water boarding and other forms of torture. He maintains illegal prisons all over the world, filled with illegally detained prisoners without legal representation, charges or trial. He ignores international laws and treaties, not to mention the US Constitution, Civil Rights and Privacy laws. He maintains support (so far) for a lawless Attorney General and Dirty Harry Karl Rove, just as he did with a megalomaniac Secretary of Defense.

On a positive note, it appears he is not contributing to the 137 count of known presidential mistresses over the last 218 years. It is not clear why that is the case.

This is a very brief discussion of the Bush White House and the man himself. Those interested in a more complete list might check out Wikipedia’s page on Bush “controversies”, listing about 250 specific entries. Happy reading. It’s not very funny.

US Election and Politics over Time

Returning to a historical perspective, following is an overview of the US national political scene as it developed over the past 218 years in the senate and house elections and sessions. Here are a few short term spikes as they happened over time: Southern Congressional Democrats lost out, for obvious reasons, during the Civil War. Republicans lost ground during the 1880s, during WWI and in the depression of the 1930s.

Overall, Republicans influence in the House trended down from the end of the Civil War till the 1970s, when their luck reversed, starting with a peak after WWII and FDR’s death.. Then the Democrats (top blue part of the graph) crawled back in the early 2000s. By 2007, Democrats dominate the Congress as Republicans continue to be plagued by one after another scandal and Bush’s low standings.

Politicians Composition US Congress 1789-2007

Most of the small parties in the 1700s and 1800s were allocated to the Republican Party for in the graph above – the Democratic Party didn’t really exist Robert Frank - Pair on Motorcycletill after the Civil War. Incidentally, a few “small” parties were not small in their glory days: the Federalists dominated or were strong contenders till 1816 and then Democrat/Republicans took over for 8 years, followed by the Whigs being a significant factor going into the 1850s. Recently, the candidacies of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader played spoilers in the elections where they competed without winning a single state.

The Senate picture is similar but not identical. This time I choose to show a more complete picture of the political turmoil, party wise, from 1789 through the late 1850s. Unlike the proceeding, long lasting two party system, major parties come and went quickly.

Politicians Composition US Senate 1789-2007

Senatorial Republicans lost in the 1880s, WWI and the Great Depression, just like their House counterparts. However, the Senate races turned around, favoring the Republicans, right after WWII, some thirty years before the same turnaround in the House. Currently, Democrats (top blue part of the graph) dominate both the Senate and the House, partly because of the widespread disappointment with George W. Bush and partly because of the continuous scandals.


Who Are the Worst – Democrats or Republicans?

Here is the question that brought on this post. Someone writing a blog claimed there was evidence that Democrats are ethically worse than Republicans. True or false? The “Political Graveyard” site supported the statement, according to the blog. Now, does it really? Haven’t we all heard such vague statements with any old issue?

To the best of my knowledge, the Graveyard site does not draw generic conclusions, so the blog writer or someone else must have done some counting and interpretation of the data. I have found no direct support for the “bad Democrats” theory on the Graveyard web site. That site does not seem to have any political agenda. I did my own counting and the initial result suggested that the theory might, just maybe, be valid, based a cursory peek at the Graveyard data.Political Offenders By State, Original

It sure looks like the blue Democrats hold a clear lead over the red Republicans in the scoundrel department. Twice as many Democrats look disgraced compared to the apparently more honorable Republicans. So it seems until you notice the green block of “Unknowns”, making up a Robert Frank - Women Chattingquarter of the total. Also, you might remember the mention this information is over two years out of date. In the past two years, Republicans have had a spectacular run of poor ethics.

There is more to the political scene than Democrats and Republicans. A few Communists, Socialists, Fascists and Independents have left a minor mark here and there. Some tend to get arrested a lot, thereby reaching fame in our essay.

The data set does not, so far, distinguish between the Crawford dog catcher stealing a ballpoint pen from his supervisor and the five US law makers convicted of serious sexual offenses: Donald Lukens, Philip Giordano, Melvin Reynolds, Fred Richmond and Allan Howe. That does not seem equitable. Let’s correct that imbalance and bring the data up to date for a fairer picture:

Politician Offenders By Party, Updated

Suddenly, the Republicans lost their moral advantage and ended up largely even with the previously filthy Democrats. This is pretty much thanks to the efforts of Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich up closeScooter Libby, Tom DeLay, Tom Feeney, Pete Sessions, Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz, Dennis Hastert, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Bob Packwood, Chris Cannon, Bill First, Donald Rumsfeld, Ralph Reed, Randall Tobias and many others. Republicans have had quite a bad run lately.

Take one example: Dennis Hastert (R) from Illinois, succeeded Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. After the turmoil of Gingrich, everyone wanted peace and quiet. Hastert seemed to fit the bill and assumed the Speaker position in Jan, 1999. He continued his low profile approach to the point of being practically being invisible. Tom DeLay grabbed the opportunity to become the bully of the House till he fell off the wagon, tumbling towards prison in 2006.Dennis Hastert looking grim

Behind the scene, Hastert was not quite as invisible. He used his position to place a new highway close to a property he owned, netting a nice profit – the classic pork hit and run. He played Congressional kingmaker in a perhaps not completely ethical manner. In a rare moment of visibility, he declared that what remained of New Orleans “could be bulldozed” and rebuilding “doesn’t make sense to me”. Finally, he ignored the Mark Foley pursuits of under aged pages for three years. He did get reelected in 2006, but is digging a deep foxhole in which to hide for what he declared to be his last term. He now carries no leadership mantles.

There is not much difference between Democrats and Republicans in the overall picture. Both parties Tom DeLay arrest photohide mountains of skeletons in their respective closets. Differences are usually easily explained or at least understood. For instance, Democrats suffered in the Civil War by having their Democrat US law makers expelled by the North. After the War, many Southern Democrats were imprisoned by the Union for, usually, short periods of time. Later, Democrats have been hurt by mob connections in New Jersey, New York and Party Bosses in other areas. Republicans, on the other hand, lost ground during the Great Depression. Today, they seem out of touch with their inner ethics and sex feelings.

Compare the pie graph above with the two pie graphs below. All three are remarkably similar. The two graphs below show the party composition of the US Senate and the US Congress over the 1789-2007 periods. They support the view that the crime rate among Republican lawmakers is about the same as that of Democrats. In addition, as we’ve seen, there is no real evidence politicians are more criminally minded than people in general. First, here is the Senate composition: Politicians US Senate Partis 1789-2007

Here is the same graph for Congress – looks quite the same: Politicians US Congress Parties 1789-2007

They all look about the same, right? But there is a problem with saying high level politicians are no better, no worse than the common man based on a similar crime rate:

The Answer

I found the answer I sought. Both parties are guilty, neither is dominant. Big deal: it’s a draw as any reasonable person would expect. No smoking gun found to bring blogger fame and a glorious scoop hitting NYT front page. Life isn’t fair.

A crime by a president or senator has far more serious consequences than when Uncle Ben from Wichita went nuts. When Alfredo Gonzales, as the Attorney General, lies or breaks the law he makes the whole legal system look corrupt. Lies by the White House regarding Iraq caused well over 3,000 dead Americans and put hundreds of thousand Iraqi in premature graves. When Bush chooses to ignore the Geneva Conventions, every member of the US military faces horrible POW treatment as now the enemy, be it insurgents or states, can ignore the Conventions.

But let’s see what else we might be able to learn from these not so glorious characters now that we have this great little database. When did these hideous crimes take place? From where did the offenders come? What precisely did they do and were they punished fairly?


Now and then

Since our data goes all the way back to 1789, is there a story in how the offenders’ behavior changed over time? Here is a straight count of offenders over time, adjusted to an annual, comparable per capita level:

olitician Offenders Over Time, Annualized, Per Capita

The forefathers were anything but innocent. The 1800s through the Civil War were not Robert Frank - A Political Rallyaltogether ethical either. All robbers, no coppers! Much of the high rate for the 1790s is due to only 2.5 million people residing in the US, compared to 300 million today. But the 2.5 million produced more than their share of crooks. The early split between Democrats and Republicans is arbitrary until after the Civil War. Earlier, no party resembled today’s configuration.

Here are some of most serious offenders in each time period:

  • 1750-1800: Joseph Galloway: Treason; Robert Morris: Bankruptcy and Oliver Wolcott: Arson.
  • 1800-1870: Clement Clay (D): Conspiracy; Lawrence Hall (D): Disloyalty; Michael Walsh (D): Libel.
  • 1870-1920: Caleb Powers (R): Murder; Ernest Jahnke (R): Revolt; William Lorimer (R): Bribery.
  • 1920-1950: John Thomas (R): Embezzlement; John Hoeppel (D): Conspiracy; Daniel Flood (D): Conspiracy.
  • 1950-2007: Duke Cunningham (R): Bribery; David Rostenkowski (D): Fraud; Donald Lukens (R): Sexual.

Joseph Galloway was an American Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and served as Speaker of the Robert Frank - Flag By WindowsPennsylvania House of Representatives from 1766 to 1774. At that time, his loyalty image suffered a bit as he favored that the Colonies should not be independent but recognize the British King. By 1776, he openly joined the British side as they occupied Philadelphia. By 1779, he took up residence in London. He remained in Britain till his death. Meanwhile, he was stripped of US assets, estates and convicted of treason in his old neighborhood.

There actually were two Clement C. Clay, father and son, in American politics in the early to mid 1800s. The father was Governor of Alabama and later served in the US Senate with no apparent ethical issues. It is the son that is of interest. He too was a Senator from Alabama, withdrawing to the Confederate side during the Civil War. In 1865, he was suspected of being a principal part of a conspiracy leading to the assassination of Robert Frank - Band At RallyAbraham Lincoln. He and his wife spent a year in prison.

Caleb Powers briefly served as Secretary of Kentucky in 1899. He was convicted in 1900 of complicity in the assassination of the Kentucky Governor and sentenced to prison. His sentence was overturned and reinstated several times in no less than four trials. Pardoned in 1908, he went right back into politics and won several terms to Congress.

John Thomas, a right wing US Congressman from 1937 to 1950, was mostly known for opposing FDR’s New Deal, claiming it “sabotaged the capitalist system”. Being an early version of Joe McCarthy, he kept summoning suspected Communists to hearings, in particular from the movie industry. Meanwhile, suspicions rose that perhaps Thomas’ view of the capitalist system condoned corruption. After exposure by his secretary, he pleaded no contest on embezzlement charges and was promptly sent to jail. Truman eventually pardoned him but Thomas did not succeed in reentering politics.

Duke Cunningham was a Navy flyer achieving ace status in the Vietnam War. A San Diego District elected him to Congress in 1990 and reelected him six times in a career known for colorful incidences. He favored death penalty for drug dealers but temporarily changed his mind when his son was caught with 400 lbs of pot. Robert Frank - Guy Crossing SteetBy 2005, allegations of corruption started to surface, one after another. Late in 2005, after plea bargaining, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. He resigned from his seat, forfeited some personal property and is currently in prison.

Duke generally is not viewed as the brightest star of them all. For instance, the former Top Gun flier resided, inconspicuously he thought, in Washington on a luxury yacht named “Duke Stir” belonging to private sector coconspirator and sponsor who also ended up in prison. Duke paid no rent, but entertained numerous ladies of dubious character to champagne wearing his pajamas bottoms, no doubt inspired by Hugh Hefner. The aftermath of the Cunningham scandal is still, in 2007, going on with several recent indictments.

Leaving Duke in his cell and continuing our journey into the shame halls of the Republic, the evolution of punishments suffered by the politicians makes a point which is somewhat good news (maybe):

Politician Severity Of Punishment Over Time

The minor punishment category consists of acquittal, dropped cases and similar non events. Its share is essentially unchanged since the 1790s at 25% of the total. The big change is the drastic decline in “medium” punishments and a corresponding increase in the “major” category from 1920 and on. Today’s conviction rate – and carrying out the sentences – in the “major” segment is three times as high as it was in the 1800s up till the 1920s.

Here is what happened: Early on in our time frame, “punishment” was a pretty flexible concept. A culprit might be convicted but that by no meant life was over. All kinds of deals were made and Robert Frank - Running Down the Streetrarely were the sentences carried out to its official scope. Many were pardoned and others fled overseas or underground for a suitable period.

By the 1940s, this practice started to decline drastically. Those sentenced generally served a reasonable amount in jail. Ethically, that may be good news although some pardons are no doubt required for justice to be fair.

The drastic decline in pardons shows up in presidential pardons of not only politicians but people in general. A steep rise from 1789 through the early 1940s reversed to a rapid decline. Under George W. Bush pardons have almost disappeared as you might expect from his record as Texas governor. Is this decline good or bad news? Does it mean that criminals serve the punishment they deserve or does it mean presidents are more intolerant and unfair, leaving innocents to rot in prison? I’m sure it is a combination of both. It does seem obvious, though, that many convicted politicians in the past got off far easier than they deserved.

Presidential Pardons 1789-2007

Even today, quite a few politicians escape by resigning or fingering someone else. Pardons still are alive although rare. Here are a few of those pardoned in spite of some pretty heavy convictions: Albert Lange ((R): Conspiracy; R (D): Conspiracy; Andrew Jackson May (D): Bribery; Richard Nixon (R): Perjury et al.Robert Frank - Guy In Backyard

Andrew Jackson May was a New Deal Democrat in Congress from 1931 to 1947. He gained fame mostly through two incidents, both related to WWII. First, during the war he managed to release secret information about the deficiency of Japanese depth charges dropped on US submarines. May, at a press conference, let it be known that the Japanese set their charges to explode at too shallow depth. Known as the May Incident, the secret information was widely published, magnifying the disastrous breach of secrecy. About ten US submarines were sunk with 800 hands as the Japanese promptly reset their fuses.

Second, May used his influence as Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee to steer munitions contracts to friendly companies in exchange for a generous bribe. He was convicted, sent off to prison and served nine months. Harry Truman was kind enough to grant him full pardon in 1952. May was unable to revive his political career and returned home to practice law.

Summarizing the different offenses over time brings up a new point. First, about the data: the “Crime” part in the graph below includes the typical non-monetary white collar crimes ranging from conspiracy, corruption, arson and forgery to treason, DUIs, bigamy and dueling. The “Rules” part covers items such as misconduct, mismanagement, disloyalty, conflict of interest, neglecting duty and the like. “Money” summarizes embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering, campaign money issues and bribery. “Violence” includes murder, manslaughter and other violence. The “Sexual” item adds up frequenting prostitutes, homosexuality, sexual harassment, pedophilia and molestation.

Politician Summary Offenses Over Time

The white collar “Crime” part, except for the very early time period, was stable at around 35%. The “Rules” part declined as “Money” issues climbed dramatically up till 1950. After 1950, it looks like sex became more important to law makers than money – from one sin to another. It’s probably more likely that sexual infringements went unreported before, say, the 1980s – few cared except the victims. Recent years have seen a great increase in awareness about sexual harassment and child exploitation.


Coming from where?

Which are the wicked states? Where do these disgraced politicians reside or get elected? As might be expected, the large states elect most of the losers. New York, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio together put over 25% of the total bad guys into power, three times the national average rate. Expand to the top ten states: they elected 57% of the culprits.

Then there is the other end. Three states – Vermont, North Dakota and Delaware elected no disgraced politicians. More accurately, that’s the case given the database sample – these states might have a few skeletons too. Still, the ten most honest states elected less than 1.5% of ethically challenged politicians.

Politician by State and Party

The chart above counts the number of politicians from each party. One step further shows which party received its sleaze balls from a particular state. The graph below uses the same data as above but shows the difference for each state: one party minus the other: California, for instance, elected 39 bad guys, of which 11 were Democrats and 28 were Republicans. Thus, the graph displays 17 bad guys in (dis)favor of the Republicans. On the other end, Arkansas elevated a net of 11 bad Democrats into power.

California, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Indiana are bad news for Republicans. Arkansas, Mississippi and New York elect many of the rouge Democrats.

Politician Net States

The next issue is that you obviously expect the larger states to have more bad guys than the smaller ones. The graph below allows for that by dividing the state data by the number of electoral votes for the state. The graph uses data corrected for the rankings (the position of the politician, the severity of the disgrace and the punishment). That changes the picture quite dramatically: suddenly, the big states drop way down, in fact so far that they almost appear honest.

The Republican bad apples now come out of New Hampshire, Indiana and Nebraska. Democrats suffer disgrace originating in Arkansas, DC and Louisiana. California, New York and New Jersey no longer stand out as centers for political halls of criminal pursuits.

Politician State Relative Indices

There is one final step to be taken. A state such as New York elected politicians as early as 1789 while Alaska elected no one federally till 1960. It would seem Alaska is getting a free ride since the option to elect crooks to federal office was limited for most of our time frame. The last step takes the data from the above graph and divides it by the number of federal elections in which the state participated. That number ranges from 55 elections for New York to 12 for Alaska and 11 for DC.

Politicians Republicans vs. Democrats Offenders by State, Size and Time

Watch DC jump into the limelight! The city of Marion Barry takes the top spot. Actually, Washington DC is not a particularly crime ridden metro area, contrary to what you might have heard. It does suffer from being the residence of some disgraced politicians elected (or hired – not all politician are elected) elsewhere. So the shame rate is a bit biased upwards for that particular area.Robert Frank - At the Deli Counter

Here are a few of the worst offenders by the top and tail states by party:

  • New Hampshire (R): Mark Seidensticker: Sexual; George Ordway: Corruption; David Brooks: Perjury.
  • Arizona (R): Steve Aiken: Sexual; J. D Hayworth: Corruption; Rick Renzi: Corruption.
  • DC (D): Marion Barry: Violations; Albert Rhodes: Disloyalty; Walter Fauntroy: Campaign money.
  • Arkansas (D): Bill Clinton: Perjury; Roy Lewellen: Murder; William Sebastian: Violations.

Mark Seidensticker of Concord, NH, was arrested in 1992 after he picked up two teenage boys and drove them to the woods to listen to some music. The boys managed to escape and called the police. Seidensticker was found guilty and required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He violated that requirement in 1998, 2002 and 2004. He was also convicted of criminal trespass and indecent exposure. In 2004, he was court ordered to have no unsupervised contact with minors for a year.

In 2005, he approached three teenagers in his car. He managed to pick up a 14 year old boy. Later released, the teenagers had an adult contact police. The police found Seidensticker driving around in a car equipped with jelly, blankets and ropes. He was jailed, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail.

Now, Seidensticker worked as a long term campaign worker to a local politician. The politician was quite aware of Seidensticker’s status as a sex offender and claimed to have personally supervised him during campaign events. In light of his ties to Seidensticker, the politician was asked to step down. As one might expect, a political storm broke out which as most do petered out into nothing.

Leaving NH politics and sex offenders to their fates and continuing to a summary of this section:


As viewed by

Producing Bad Republicans

Producing Bad Democrats



Sheer Number

California, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, DC


Consider Size

New Hampshire, Indiana, Nebraska, Connecticut, Arizona, Iowa, Montana

Arkansas, DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia

Consider Time

New Hampshire, Arizona, Nebraska, Alaska, Montana, Indiana, Iowa

DC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana., Alabama, Utah, Tennessee

Common states

New Hampshire and Indiana

Arkansas, DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama

Each of the three ways we reviewed has pluses and minuses. The table above summarizes the three ways by listing the top seven states for each of the two parties. Then identify which states are present in all three methods: we should be pretty sure those are quite wicked. As it turns out, New Hampshire and Indiana made some bad Republican choices while Arkansas, Washington DC, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama caused the Democrats considerable grief.


Did what?

Once these losers managed to get themselves elected or hired, what exactly did they do to deserve inclusion in this undistinguished gang of disgraced politicians? As you’ll see in the next graph, they did all kinds of horrible things:

Politician Crime Categories by Party

Some Republicans and a few Democrats have trouble keeping their pants on and zipped up at the appropriate Robert Frank - Lady Looking Aroundmoments, resulting in sex crimes being the biggest category. The politician sex offender category is far larger than implied by the comparable national rate. Among federal law makers, the sex crime rate is in the order of 10 per 1,000 compared to less than 1 per 1,000 in the general population. That is, law makers in Washington DC are over ten times more likely to commit sex offenses than the average Joe. If there ever was a smoking gun, here it is.

The number two offense, bribery, hits an equivalent number of Republicans and Democrats, followed by hodgepodge category of “Violations”. Summarizing, Democrats are a bit fraudulent and murderous; Republicans lead as corrupt, lying, conspiratorial, treacherous embezzlers.

“Name the scoundrel” continues for a few of the top categories:

  • Sexual: Donald Lukens (R); Philip Giordano (R); Melvin Reynolds (D).
  • Bribery: Richard Hanna (D); Percy Giles (D); Mario Biaggi (D).
  • Fraud: Edward Pritchard (D); Marvin Warner (D); Carroll Hubbard (D).
  • Corruption: William Vare (R); Ken Calvert (R); Jerry Lewis (R).

Donald Lukens, was a US Congressman from Ohio in the 1960s, a Ohio state senator in the 1970s and 1980s and, again, a US Congressman in the 1990s, He was caught on camera by a local TV station, Flag In The Officediscussing having sex with a teenage girl against a $40 “gift”. The discussion in question was with the mother of the teenager. Lukens was found guilty on a minor charge, but refused to give up his Congress seat in spite of pressure. He was defeated in the next election. During his last months in office, he fondled an elevator operator, landing him a month (reduced to 9 days) in jail. Some years later, he was convicted on bribery and conspiracy charges in the Rubbergate scandal (more below).

Richard Hanna, US Congressman from California from 1963-1974, accepted a $200,000 bribe from South Korea businessman Tongsun Park. Hanna was convicted and sentenced to prison for up to 30 months. As it turned out, this was only the tip of a very large iceberg, known as Koreagate. This money for favors scheme allegedly involved 115 members of the US Congress. The 115 shrunk to 30, then 10 members and finally 7 and only one conviction: Richard Hanna (D) was convicted as per above; Edward Roybal (D) was censured; Charles Wilson (D) and John McFall (D) were reprimanded. Edward Patten (D) was found not guilty while Otto Passman (D) was spared indignity due to illness. Later, Mr. Park was convicted of corrupt dealings with very senior UN officials in the Iraq oil-for-food program, directly tied to Saddam Hussein. Park was sentenced to 5 years in prison in early 2007.

Carroll Hubbard of the US Congress from 1975 to 1993 became a person of interest as the Rubbergate banking scandal broke in 1992. Rubbergate referred to a congressional “house bank” run on extremely loose practices to the convenience of the law makers. Few records were kept or dispersed. Overdrafts were allowed with little control. Newt Gingrich and the Gang of Seven soon saw an opportunity to get rid of democrats by making the scandal public. This move backfired as it turned out Gingrich wrote overdraft checks himself. Ultimately, over 450 representatives were involved but only 77 were either forced to Jerry LKewis Official Photoresign or lost the next election. Four ex-Congressmen were convicted: Donald Lukens (above), Carroll Hubbard, Carl Perkins and Mary Oakar – all Democrats except Lukens.

Jerry Lewis, not to be confused with the actor, is a conservative Republican US Representative from California, having served since 1979. He is under investigation for funneling hundreds of millions of federal dollars to friends, relatives and anyone willing to kick back a generous campaign contribution. The money allegedly is laundered through the lobbying firm Copeland Lowery which is lucky enough to earn millions in fees. Lewis’ links to the firm are very close with employees go back and forth from his staff to the firm, earning millions in the process. He is also investigated for other possible ethics violations, being declared one of the most corrupt Congressmen by several organizations. One area of investigation concerns his ties to the activities of Duke Cunningham (see earlier discussion). Although not charged yet, he stands a good chance of indictments for bribery, fraud and violations of various House ethical rules. One of the US DAs investigating Lewis was Carol Lam, recently and controversially dismissed by Alfredo Gonzales.


Punished how?

For most of us, if we commit an offense we end up in court and are either found not guilty or we face a well defined punishment, be it community service or death row. Not so simple if you are a well placed law maker. The US Senate, for instance, has the power to impeach, convict, expel, reprimand, subpoena, censure, reject, remove from privileged committees, force a resignation and take various disciplinary actions. Of course, the Senate may also choose to ignore the matter, acquit, drop the charges, plea bargain or refer the incidence elsewhere at its discretion. Politician Offender Punishment USA

If the crime is serious enough (by the standards of the law makers) the matter certainly is surrendered to the regular authorities. In practice, that is not a given. If a member resigns, the matter usually is Mark Foley looking innocentclosed. Newt Gingrich faced 84 counts of ethics violations, including violations of tax laws and perjury. He resigned with no further action taken. Mark Foley’s sexual advances towards minors resulted in his resignation. Although law authorities such as FBI are said to investigate the Foley case, there is no sign of indictments or active pursuit of investigations six months later.

My database lists 42 politicians resigning and thereby avoiding most punishments.

  • The crimes involved include: Bribery (4), Corruption (4), Fraud (2), Murder/Violence (3), Perjury (2) and Sexual (11).
  • Top names include: Mark Foley (R): Sexual; John Eaton (D): Violence; Oliver Wolcott (R): Arson; Spiro Agnew (R): Bribery and Rick Renzi (R): Corruption.

Does anyone remember Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s VP from 1969 to 1973? The son of a Greek immigrant, Agnew fought his way uphill to become Governor of Maryland. He was the American Success Story – the first Greek-American, not to mention son of a poor immigrant, to reach the post. With that image and because Agnew was perceived to catch Southern votes, Nixon took him on as VP in the 1968 election. Agnew quickly became Nixon’s hatchet guy with a rich vocabulary of insults for Blacks, Vietnam protesters, political opponents and Spiro Agnew with Young Barry Goldwaterjournalists. The balloon burst when he was forced to plead no contest to tax evasion and money laundering. He ended up convicted, on probation, disbarred and forced to pay hefty fines, as well as losing the VP position. Life by no means ended, he continued to live the American Dream in four grand homes coast to coast till his death at 77.

Another punishment category is called “Slapped”. That means there was some punishment involved but nowhere close to a normal sentence. The database lists 62 individuals being “slapped” in lieu of a regular punishment.

  • Crimes include: Bribery (2), Campaign Money (3), Conspiracy (6), Corruption (2), Embezzlement (3), Fraud (6), Murder/Violence (3), Perjury (3), Sexual (4), Tax Evasion (2) and Treason (4).
  • Top names include: Andrew Jackson May (D): Bribery; Benjamin Harris (D): Conspiracy, John Langley (R): Conspiracy and Rudolph Tenerowicz (D): Conspiracy.

Rudolph Tenerowicz served as the mayor of Hamtramck, Michigan from 1928 to 1932. Convicted in Robert Frank - New York City Teenagers1932 on vice conspiracy charges, he was sent to prison. Soon, he was pardoned by the Governor and returned to serve as mayor from 1936 to 1938. He continued his political career as a US Representative, lasting till 1943, after which his political career was over in spite of reelection attempts through 1954 as both Democrat and, occasionally, Republican.

“Impeachment” by itself means little in terms of an actual punishment which requires an additional conviction phase. Bill Clinton was impeached but eventually acquitted. Andrew Johnson is the other impeached president who also was acquitted. 15 other officials have been impeached – almost all serving in the Justice system and most were removed from their duties.

“Censured” means nothing from an actual punishment point of view. Nine US Senators have been censured. Expulsion is a more serious punishment – similar to being fired – but is a very rare occurrence: 13 Senators were expelled due to supporting the Confederate side during the Civil War. That meant little since the Senators had already left the capitol for Southern pastures. William Blount is the only other expulsion for favoring British interests in Florida in 1797. Blount recovered in Tennessee to become speaker in the state Senate.

Polotician Offender Punishment by Party

The bottom line in crime and punishment still is the conviction rate where significant punishment is imposed and the sentence is largely carried out. That definition leads to 173 or about 32% convictions of the 547 individuals in our survey. Clearly, law makers have a pretty good chance of avoiding punishment. But 173 law makers found out that did not apply to them. Further, signs are that the favored treatments have declined over the last fifty years. Today’s society of merciless blogs, YouTube and mass global, instant communication through an ever increasing array of media that did not exist even five years ago makes life even more difficult for the shady politicians.


Next and previous

What’s to Learn?

Based on the data available to this post, there is no overall evidence politicians are more criminal than average Robert Frank - On The Ferrypeople. However, crimes by politicians usually have far more serious consequences than those of an average citizen. Crimes by politicians are also much more visible, when exposed, than crimes by ordinary people. There are signs that “Power corrupts”: once a politician goes over the edge, he just keeps going, imagining immunity, reaching for more and more till the bubble bursts.

There is a major exception to the above. Federal elected law makers are up to ten times more likely than the average population to commit sex crimes. A fair part of that are crimes against children and underage teenagers.

Both Democrats and Republican carry a heavy load of highly visible skeletons, from the presidential level down. Politicians have committed every conceivable crime but most are in the white collar area: bribery, embezzlement, treason, perjury, corruption, conspiracy and breaking various, usually ethical, rules. Some are not white collar: murder, violence and sex crimes.Robert Frank - Man At The Funeral

Presidents, of course, are the most scrutinized individuals on earth and none in the last 60 years come through as innocents. Every single president has committed some ethical violation and most committed many. Only rarely are they punished for their acts. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did suffer some. George W. H. Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson did not get reelected. Ronald Reagan sailed through any rocks effortlessly as did Dwight Eisenhower, each doing as little as possible. Incredibly, George W. Bush will not suffer for his many sins in spite of some impeachment efforts.

Perhaps you notice a bit of a contradiction here. On the one hand, federal level politicians are no more criminal (convicted) than the average population, yet every single president is clearly ethically deficient, perhaps with an exception or two. Here is the rub: presidents may be totally corrupt but they almost never suffer the consequences. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. Bill Clinton did not back down and was impeached but suffered no punishment. George W. Bush is guilty of war crimes but will go unpunished – he massaged US laws to ensure that happy outcome. Hence, there are no consequences to suffer, and these guys know it.Robert Frank - Man Driving

Geographical differences abound: some states are far more likely to produce bad politicians: on a sheer numbers base, look out for New York, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio while Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont are all snow white. Historically, Republicans have been hurt by bad apples from New Hampshire and Indiana. Democrats have suffered from some ethically challenged individuals out of the Deep South. Links to organized crime and party bosses does not pay out as is evident from many events in New Jersey, New York and Chicago.

Many scandals, ethical or criminal, involve not one but many politicians. There is a herd mentality that easily crosses party lines. Examples involving many, some hundreds, of law makers: Abscam, Rubbergate, Koreagate, Chinagate, Watergate, Debategate, Filegate, Monicagate, Iraqgate (several versions), Attorneygate, Foleygate, Robert Frank - By The BeachHookergate, Hostagegate, Pardongate, Teamstergate, Travelgate, Katrinagate, Plamegate and Enrongate plus the Iran-Contra, Savings and Loan, Abu Ghraib and Abramoff scandals . All of these examples are on the federal level – imagine adding in state and local scandals.

There are some encouraging signs: more law makers are convicted of their crimes. More have to serve their punishment as abuses of pardons and plea bargains declined. Even so, the latitude of law maker punishment is far greater than for ordinary people. Many lawmakers end up with far smaller punishments than would ordinary citizens. The evolution of the web with all its bloggers, videos and instant communications have created a whole new set of accountability rules that perhaps not all culprits realize yet.

Who Are the Worst?


Judging ethics, in the final analysis, is not a matter of statistics. It’s a matter of enlightened opinion, a very personal possession. That opinion is based on a great Robert Frank - Two Men Drivingmany moral and ethics factors, many of which are covered in my post On Ethics 6: We the People. In this particular case, one’s political leanings also come into the picture. These may or may not be related to ethical beliefs.

I wanted to disclose my own view on the worst of the worst because it illustrates my biases which, I’m sure color this whole post.

Having done the analysis, pondered the ethics not necessarily visible in the analysis and applying personal biases, here is my list of the top 6 worst of the worst by category from 1970 to today, delivered without further comments:

  • Presidents and VPs: George W. Bush (R), Richard Nixon (R), Jimmy Carter (D), Dick Cheney (R), Spiro Agnew (R), Bill Clinton (D).
  • Congress: Newt Gingrich (R), Duke Cunningham (R), Gary Condit (D), Donald Lukens (R), James Inhofe (R), Tom DeLay (R).
  • Other: Pat Robertson (R), Ann Coulter (R), Jack Abramoff (R), Karl Rove (R), Donald Rumsfeld (R), Marion Barry (D).

Feel free to agree, disagree, accuse and add or whatever you might wish to submit as a response. Ethics are subject to diverse and personal factors, none of which are precisely the same in any of us. Thank you all.

Other Ethics Posts:

This is the 7th post in the Ethics series. Previous posts went through a wide selection of ethical questions and issues. Here are the mRobert Frank - Cowboy In The Cityain posts:

  • On Ethics 1: Just A Point Of View? This post kicked off the Ethics series. It starts with a street photography issue but quickly veers into philosophy as related to life and politics.
  • On Ethics 1A: Art and Descartes – What About It? This post discussed two reader questions: the first one dealt with a quote “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes. The second question asked who does one know what is art.
  • On Ethics 2: Ethics and Morals of Torture. Suddenly US policy condones the use of torture, one of many violations of human rights practiced by the Bush administration. This post takes a look at the ethical consequences of that fatal decision.
  • On Ethics 3: Clashes of Giants. Combining views on Ethics, Reality and Morals; the post covers ground from philosophy to torture with a bit of politics thrown in.
  • On Ethics 4: Violence of the Ivory Towers. Governments, here known as Ivory Towers, commit unspeakable acts of violence. The post looks at the justifications for different types of War from an ethical stand point.
  • On Ethics 5: Ivory Towers in Peace. Going from War to Peace, the post covers government influences, such as those of the Ten Commandments, the Geneva Conventions, Magna Carta, the UN, the Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming.
  • On Ethics 6: We the People. Having covered the lofty atmosphere of the Ivory Towers, here is a discussion of personal ethics, such as ethnics, race, racism, culture and religion.

Thank you, Karl


Robert Frank - Car Covered

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