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Affairs, Pheasant Feathers and White House Stays: 6 Big Money-in-Politics Scandals

Affairs, Pheasant Feathers and White House Stays: 6 Big Money-in-Politics Scandals

Overnight stays in the White House for wealthy donors. A re-decoration of a congressional office with red walls and a plume of pheasant feathers. An elaborate strategy to hide an affair and a pregnancy.The list of scandals related to money in politics got two new additions last month. In one, Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s…


Overnightstays in the White Housefor wealthy donors. Are-decoration of a congressional officewith red walls and a plume of pheasant feathers. Anelaborate strategy to hidean affair and a pregnancy.

The list of scandals related to money in politics got two new additions last month. In one, Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer,pleaded guiltyto breaking campaign finance laws.

Mr. Cohen said in court that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women — a pornographic film star and a former Playboy model — during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.

In the other, Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California,was accused ofusing $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expensesand lying to the Federal Election Commission.

Experts say the majority of campaign finance law violations are clerical errors or missed deadlines, and are rectified by the parties involved. Many result in civil penalties — President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign paid a $375,000 penalty to the F.E.C.,largely for failing to notify regulatorsof contributions totaling $1,000 or more within 48 hours of receiving them.

But other cases are more extraordinary, like thevast fund-raising operationthat enabled the Watergate break-in.

In fact, quite a few recent high-profile political scandals have had a campaign finance twist. Let’s take a look.

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The Alabama governor’s relationship

He became knownas the “Love Gov.”

In April 2017, Gov. Robert Bentley, Republican of Alabama,stepped downunder threat of impeachmentand amid accusations that he was having an affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

A report by a special counselto a state legislative committee had said that Mr. Bentley encouraged “an atmosphere of intimidation” around his staff to keep them from speaking of his relationship with Ms. Mason, and that he had directed state employees to cover up the relationship. (Mr. Bentleyhad denied a physical relationshipwith Ms. Mason long before he resigned,despite recordings that suggested physical intimacy.)

Central to Mr. Bentley’s resignationwas a guilty pleato two misdemeanor charges: failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign contributions to personal use.

The report describes how Mr. Bentley tried to use a member of his security detail to break up with Ms. Mason on his behalf, and how Mr. Bentley demanded that she be allowed to travel in official vehicles after she left the state’s payroll.

Before the plea deal, the Alabama Ethics Commission had said it hadprobable causeto find that Mr. Bentley had committed felonies before he resigned, and had referred its findings to prosecutors.

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The New Jersey senator’s friendship with a doctor

In 2015, Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, wascharged with bribery-related crimesbased on his relationship with an eye doctor, Salomon E. Melgen.

Prosecutors said Dr. Melgenmade more than $700,000 in direct and indirect political contributionsto Mr. Menendez. Within days of one set of contributions, Mr. Menendezpressed federal officialsto intervene in a Medicare billing dispute worth almost $9 million to Dr. Melgen.As evidence of illicit behavior, prosecutors also pointed to private flights for Mr. Menendez, as well as travel to a luxury hotel in Paris and seaside stays in the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Menendez maintained that he and Dr. Melgen were just close friends. The federal corruption trial for the two menended in a mistrialin November.

Prosecutors initially said they intended to retry Mr. Menendez, but after a judgesaid some elements of their casewere “empty of relevant evidential fact,” the Justice Departmentdroppedthe charges.

In a separate case, Dr. Melgenwas convicted of Medicare fraudin April 2017.

As Mr. Menendez faces re-election in November, Republican effortsto defeat himhave seized on the case.

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The Illinois congressman’s office renovations

When Aaron Schock joined the House in 2009, he was 27, and a rising Republican star from Illinois.

He pushed formore trade with Colombia, andattracted attentionforhis Instagram accountwith photos showing him surfing orglacier-jumping.

But in 2015, Mr. Schockresigned amid accusationsthat he had used taxpayer and campaign funds on private jets and concerts, and had failed to report extravagant gifts on financial disclosure forms.

He wasalso criticized for a series of office renovationsthat included blood-red walls, a crystal chandelier and a plume of pheasant feathers.The renovations were compared tothe environs seen on the show “Downton Abbey,” and mocked by many. Mr. Schock had never “seen ‘Downton Abbey’ and did not request an office designed like it,”his lawyer said in 2016.

Mr. Schock eventually paid back the governmenttens of thousandsof dollars for the renovations, according to The Associated Press.

In 2016,he was indictedon charges including wire fraud and theft of government funds. His trial date is scheduled for early 2019.

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The presidential candidate’s affair and child

An illicit affair, a pregnancy and a scheme to hide them during the 2008 presidential race.

That wouldbecome the focus of a trial in 2012over whether John Edwards, a former Democratic presidential candidate, vice-presidential nominee and senator, broke campaign finance laws as part of the cover-up. A two-year investigationled to his indictmentby a federal grand jury in 2011.

Mr. Edwards began the affair with a campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter,in 2006; she became pregnant the next year. Prosecutors said Mr. Edwardshad used about $1 millionto hide Ms. Hunter from his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, and the public. They also saidhe initially had an aide claim paternity of the child, who was born in 2008. Mr. Edwardsadmitted the child was his in 2010.

Mrs. Edwardsdied that Decemberafter battling cancer. One of her closest friends testified aboutthe emotional turmoilMrs. Edwards went through to believe that her husband had not conceived a child with Ms. Hunter.

A jurycould not reacha verdict on five charges of campaign finance fraud and conspiracy, and found Mr. Edwards not guilty on one other charge. Federal prosecutors later saidthey would not retry him.

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The stays by donors in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom

The Democratic Party’sfund-raising tactics during the 1996 presidential campaign, including overnight stays for top donors in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom, became the subject of much controversy.

It would emergethat President Bill Clinton had personally approved a plan, years earlier, to reward Democratic donors and fund-raisers with meals, golf outings and jogs with him, as well as stays in the Lincoln Bedroom to “energize” them for his re-election campaign.Critics referredtothe selling of the Lincoln Bedroom.

After Mr. Clinton’s re-election, the administrationreleased a list of 938 guestswho stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom and other rooms, including some who did not donate.

Mr. Clinton largely defended the visits,saying that the guestshad stayed as friends, not as contributors.

The scandalwas soon overshadowedby revelations of Mr. Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

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The vice president’s visit to a Buddhist temple

Another scandal tied to that campaign would follow Vice President Al Gore for years.

In 2000, a longtime fund-raiser for Mr. Gorewas convicted of five felonycounts for helping arrange illegal donations to the Democratic Party and its candidates in 1996. About $55,000 of that was in connectionwith a visit by Mr. Gore to a Buddhist templein the Los Angeles area during the campaign.

Prosecutors said that the fund-raiser, Maria Hsia, arranged for nuns and monks to write checks to make it seem that they were the donors to the Democratic National Committee. But they were actually reimbursed by the temple, a religious, tax-exempt institution barred from making political contributions.

Mr. Gore’scredibility regarding what he knewcame under scrutiny.

The scandal resurfacedduring his failed 2000 presidential run. “Who’s he going to be today?” one television ad asked. “The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple? Or the one who promises campaign finance reform?”

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