Would anything coming out about politicians surprise you these days? After the infamous Access Hollywood tape of 2016 and numerous other scandals on the record, it would take something like spies in the White House to get Americans’ attention.
Impossible, right? While investigators delve into those things for us, there are still plenty of facts about U.S. politics that would turn the average person’s stomach. You might call them “swamp tales.” Here are 15 of the dirtiest secrets of the American political system.
15. Young girls are fair game
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Alabama, always had a reputation for controversy. However, stories about his advances on teenage girls never made it to the spotlight until he ran for national office. Throughout November, women recounted incidents in which they said Moore kissed and touched them while they were underage (in some cases, just 14 years old).
Then AL.com spoke with people who knew Moore when he was district attorney of Etowah County in the 1970s. At that time, folks in the Gadsden Mall knew Moore often cruised the area looking for young girls to date. Locals described it as “not a big secret,” with a deputy DA describing Moore’s actions as “common knowledge. Mall security knew to be on the lookout for Moore as well. That’s quite a dirty secret for a man who almost became senator.
Next: Corruption is so normal the trial of a U.S. Senator is hardly makes news.
14. A Senator’s corruption trial draws only a few shrugs
You could file this one under “secrets hiding in plain sight.” Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, concluded an 11-week trial for bribery charges in mid-November after jurors could not agree on a verdict. Menendez used the private jet of a wealthy donor on several occasions and was accused of helping the man with government favors.
According to NBC News, no sitting senator had faced trial in 36 years, so you’d think Menendez’s case would dominate multiple news cycles. However, at a time when bombshell news stories seem to arrive on the hour, this case came and went rather quietly. (It ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury.) People are used to corruption in the swamp.
Next: Even a child molester can have a long, successful career in Congress.
13. This Speaker of the House was a ‘serial child molester’
You may remember Republican Congressman Dennis Hastert as the Speaker of the House during the George W. Bush years. What we never knew about the former GOP leader was he molested boys for years as a wrestling coach in Illinois. During a trial for bank fraud related to payoffs for one of Hastert’s victims, the long-serving Speaker admitted to sexually abusing multiple children.
Because the statute of limitations expired for these sex crimes, federal prosecutors could only charge Hastert for fraud while keeping one of the boys quiet. Nonetheless, Hastert went to jail and was forced to register as a sex offender when he left the prison. During sentencing, Judge Thomas Durkin described Hastert as “a serial child molester.” During the all-encompassing 2016 presidential campaign, this story got relatively little media attention.
Next: When up for a White House job, feel free to lie.
12. You can lie to get a security clearance
A funny thing happened when Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser, went to get his security clearance. According to the documents, Flynn claimed a trip paid for by Russian state media was paid for by an American company instead. Revealing his ties to Russia would have raised red flags as Flynn hoped to get access to classified documents, so he didn’t mention it.
Later, he was fired for another lie (or omission, if you like) about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Rather than testify on these matters, Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendment. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller later took a guilty plea from Fynn for lying to FBI agents about conversations with Russia, but it looks like lying to get a White House job worked.
Next: It’s a great time for foreign dictators to get away with murder in America.
11. Foreign dictators do what they like in Trump’s America
If thugs working for a foreign dictator beat up a bunch of U.S. citizens in our nation’s capital, you’d think there would be hell to pay. When it happened with Turkey President Erdogan’s entourage the past summer in Washington D.C., no charges were filed and President Trump said nothing about it.
An elderly man, two women, a police officer, and two Secret Service agents received injuries following the attack that began during a protest against Erdogan, The Independent reported. It took until an outcry from both parties on Capitol Hill for a grand jury to convene and identify 19 people to charge in the attack. However, since most have diplomatic immunity as Erdogan’s bodyguards, expect little (if anything) to come of the charges.
Next: If lobbyists ask nicely, they can write a law.
10. Lobbyists write the laws
What if a lobbyist wrote a bill and nothing changed before Congress voted it into law? In that situation, someone making campaign donations could easily dictate how Americans live. Actually, it happens quite frequently, and in the Trump era lobbyists actually brag about victories. In July 2017, a group representing doctors and insurance companies wrote a bill that barely changed before becoming law, The Washington Post reported.
This new law would limit damages doctors faced when charged with malpractice. The House held no public hearings on the law and Steve King (R-Iowa) was the proud sponsor. We know pay-to-play exists, but now we know how it looks with zero shame.
Next: Congress wrote the book — and many millions in settlement checks — on sexual harassment.
9. No one does sexual harassment like Congress
At a time when sexual harassment scandals emerge by the day, let’s look at Congress’s record over the last few decades. (Spoiler: It’s bad.) According to a report in The Washington Post, the compliance office paid $17.2 million in settlements over the past 17 years. While some of these payouts stem from generic labor abuses, many settled sexual harassment claims. The worst year was 2007 (25 settlements), when Speaker Hastert’s eight-year reign ended.
Next: This is how democracy really dies.
8. Citizens United was a nail in U.S. democracy’s coffin
If you like democracy, you probably hate Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates for big donor money. Before the Republican-stacked court’s 5-4 ruling, outside groups (e.g., the Kochs and other billionaires) could not hijack local elections. Afterward, outside groups merely had to funnel their money through political action committees (PACs). They can now do it in unlimited amounts.
So if you’re wondering how big-money people got more power than the citizens of a certain city or state, just go back to this 2010 court case. It was one nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy. Whether our system of government survives remains to be seen, but now you know why donors care so much about the Supreme Court. It’s like a goody basket.
Next: Nepotism is not just for Third World dictators anymore.
7. Bring your kids to work in Washington
Americans have mocked the nepotism practiced in corrupt Third World governments for generations. Well, now the joke’s on us. Donald Trump brought two of the least qualified people to work in the White House with him to Washington. One was his daughter Ivanka; the other was her husband (his son-in-law) Jared Kushner. Nepotism is alive and well in America, and we can thank our 45th president.
Next: Want to meddle in U.S. elections? No problem!
6. Foreign governments influence elections with no repercussions
When President Obama heard about Russian interference in the 2016 election, he and members of his administration chose to keep it quiet. According to Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, the administration feared going after Russia would help Putin’s cause because it might support “rigged election” claims, Politico reported. So Obama played it softly.
That was a huge mistake. The second huge mistake is Trump letting Russia off the hook. Since a Russia sanctions bill passed, Trump has not implemented it. In other words, a foreign government seeking to undermine U.S. democracy did so without repercussions. Senator Lindsey Graham R-South Carolina) said it this way: “The Trump administration … has a blind spot on Russia I still can’t figure out,” Mediaite reported.
Next: The surprisingly cheap price of a Congressman these days
5. Buying an election is cheap
According to the OpenSecrets Blog, the average House seat cost the winner $1.3 million in 2016. Sure, that might sound like a lot to the average American, but for a billionaire donor like Sheldon Adelson it’s chump change. Anyway, you don’t have to spend the full amount to get what you want. By simply spending more than anyone else does, you can effectively buy the election. Maybe $400,000 will do in some elections. Swing elections cost more but pay off better, too.
Next: Don’t want to show who pays you money (and who you owe money to)? No problem, presidente!
4. The president can hide his tax returns
Since the early 1970s, every candidate for U.S. president has released his or her tax returns. Then Trump came along. According to a running timeline of the president’s statements compiled by CNN, Trump either promised to release them outright (through most of 2016) or said he would when an audit was complete, but “not after election!”
Around his inauguration, Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway took all those promises back. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax return,” she said. With Trump standing to benefit in a big way from the GOP tax bill, these returns could be hiding an even dirtier secret.
Next: It’s easy to cash in at The White House.
3. Profiting from the presidency is easy
If you wonder why everyone gets so outraged by Trump’s golfing weekend at his own resorts, it’s because he’s taking money from taxpayers to make money for himself. The equation is simple. When Trump goes to a Trump golf club, the U.S. Secret Service must protect him, and taxpayers pay for it. To follow him around the golf course, the agency must pay for golf cart rentals (yep, taxpayers again).
Who do they pay? Since he hasn’t fully divested from his businesses, they pay Trump in one way or another. Don’t you love blind trusts?
Next: Why stop lying when it pays off?
2. Lying pays off
There’s a reason people call Trump Liar-in-Chief and other nasty things — they are accurate descriptions. In the first 10 months of his presidency, Trump rattled off 1,628 false claims, The Washington Post counted. The pace accelerated remarkably in early October. Over the course of 35 days, Trump averaged nine lies a day. All politicians lie or exaggerate on some level, but these excesses are appalling.
And you know what? It works well enough, Sure, the majority of the country disapproves of Trump, but they also disapprove of hundreds of people. The thing, Trump became U.S. president with his lying routine.
Next: Of all dirty disgraces of U.S. politics, this one is like an open sore.
1. Dead children come second to gun worship
America stands alone in the number of gun deaths per year. We live in a country where mass shootings are the norm, and Congress refused to act even after the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut. (Since then, scores of children have died due to gun violence.) Meanwhile, polls of Americans show overwhelming support (over 90%) for basic background checks and other simple curbs on unrestricted firearm sales. It’s the only thing we agree on.
So why won’t Congress pass any gun laws? There are many reasons, but the biggest one is fear of losing an election. Wanna pass a gun law as a Republican? The National Rifle Association will make sure everyone in the country knows about it. It’s not all about money in this case; it’s propaganda. Get everyone believing someone’s “coming for your guns” means big business for gun merchants and plenty of angry people. Call it the cycle of gun worship, enabled by the U.S. Congress.