Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair

Elizabeth Ray, hired as a secretary to Ohio representative Wayne L. Hays even though she had no skills to perform the job, exposed her romantic affair with the Congress member in an article in The Washington Post. Hays initially denied the story but eventually admitted their relationship and resigned from Congress.

Summary of Event

By the time Wayne L. Hays was elected to the U.S. Congress, he had been an Ohio officeholder since 1939. He served on the state’s board of education, was mayor of the small town of Flushing, and was a state senator. A portion of his service in the former two offices overlapped so that he actually held two elective offices at the same time. After a hiatus in private life during the mid-1940’s, Hays was elected to Congress in 1948 from Ohio’s economically depressed blue-collar eighteenth district. [kw]Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair (May 23, 1976)
[kw]Hays’s Affair, Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. (May 23, 1976)
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[g]United States;May 23, 1976: Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair[01610]
[c]Politics;May 23, 1976: Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair[01610]
[c]Sex;May 23, 1976: Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair[01610]
[c]Publishing and journalism;May 23, 1976: Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair[01610]
[c]Government;May 23, 1976: Washington Post Exposes Congressman Wayne L. Hays’s Affair[01610]

Elizabeth Ray, former lover of Representative Wayne L. Hays, announces the publication of her book, The Washington Fringe Benefit, which details the scandal.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Hays was returned to office for the next twenty-eight years, during which time he steadily rose in the congressional ranks to become chairman of the House Administration Committee. He also served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and as two-term president of the North Atlantic Treaty North Atlantic Treaty Organization Organization Parliamentarians Conference. Although a liberal on many domestic issues such as civil rights, he was a hawk on military matters, avidly supporting the war in Vietnam and vehemently denouncing antiwar protesters. His comments after the Kent State Kent State massacre
National Guard;Kent State shootings University shooting tragedy in 1970 were widely condemned. He is reported as having scoffed that the violence arose among one bunch of draft dodgers (the students) facing another bunch of draft dodgers (the Ohio National Guard soldiers).

It was in his role as House Administration Committee chairman that the abrasive Hays began to amass significant political power. Historically a minor committee overseeing congressional housekeeping details, it grew under his chairship into a major committee that made him one of the most feared and disliked politicians in Washington, D.C. He supervised the distribution of monies to members and committees of Congress for travel, office expenses, and staffing; controlled parking; and oversaw some seven hundred employees. Another center of power for Hays was his leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Hays’s perceived arrogance, vindictiveness, and intransigence in the exercise of power made him widely disliked among his colleagues, at least one of whom called him the meanest person in Congress. His storied pettiness was demonstrated when he ordered the removal of the operator seats in congressional elevators because he did not want the operators to be able to sit while he had to stand. When he became annoyed with the House barbershop, he mandated a no-tipping policy for the shop.

The beginning of the end of his autocratic reign came on May 23, 1976, with the publication of the article “Closed Session Romance on the Hill” in The Washington Post. The article accused him of having kept a woman on his payroll solely for sexual services. Elizabeth Ray, who aspired to an acting career, claimed that she was hired as a secretary even though, as she was famously quoted in the article, “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone.”

Apparently, the accommodating thirty-three-year-old Ray had willingly been involved with other Congress members before. The North Carolina native, born Betty Lou Ray, may have been naïve but she was reportedly far from innocent. For a time, she occupied a luxurious office but did little or no actual secretarial work while being paid $14,000 a year of taxpayers’ money. She was, in other words, Hays’s mistress. Although it was widely reported that Ray was forty years younger than Hays, their age difference, although substantial, was thirty-two years.

The affair was well underway when Hays married his second wife; he had been married to his first wife for thirty-eight years. Ray quoted him as having assured her that the affair could continue after his marriage if she “behaved herself” and that she should come into the office for at least two hours a day to allay suspicions. He feared that a prominent journalist, possibly Bob Woodward, was interested in doing an exposé on him.

Ray stated that she had grown afraid of Hays and that he had threatened her if she ever revealed their affair. She said that he had made a reference to troublemakers being thrown six feet under into the Potomac River, a claim he denied. Hays admitted to the affair, but not after first disputing the allegations. In an apparent effort to save himself, he resigned his chairship and fired Ray, but it was too little, too late, and he resigned his congressional seat on September 1.

The timing of Hays’s resignation was undoubtedly affected by the pending investigation by the House House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Hays also was being investigated by the House Ethics Committee, which called off its three-month probe upon his resignation. He also faced a grand jury indictment. Also, there was some question about his ability to win reelection. In the June Democratic Party primary that took place in his Ohio district shortly after the scandalous Washington Post article appeared, a practically unknown opponent garnered almost 40 percent of the vote.

Hays returned to private life and to temporary disgrace. Following disclosure of his relationship with Ray, he had taken an overdose of sleeping pills but denied it was a suicide attempt. Along with his other problems, he was the subject of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) not only for possible misuse of public funds to keep his mistress on the congressional payroll but also improper expenditures while on overseas trips.

Two years later, in 1978, he staged a mild political comeback by gaining a plurality of the votes in a race with multiple candidates and won election as an Ohio state representative. He was, however, defeated upon his reelection bid in 1980. Hays remained active in Democratic state politics and was still supported by many of his former constituents for the economic benefits he brought to them during his years in Congress. Among those benefits was the awarding of pensions for black lung disease, a common coal miner’s ailment. He also was remembered for such legislation as the Fulbright-Hays Act, which fostered cultural exchanges between U.S. citizens and citizens of other world nations.

Ray faded into obscurity, her name a mere footnote in the history of political scandals. Describing the time of her brief notoriety, one commentator said that her celebrity status was somewhere between that of “mob girl” Virginia Hill and the notorious disease carrier Typhoid Mary.


The public was particularly attuned to political scandals as a result of the Watergate Nixon, Richard
[p]Nixon, Richard;and Watergate[Watergate] affair and U.S. president Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. The Hays scandal was reminiscent of the highly publicized debacle when Arkansas Democrat Wilbur D. Mills was caught carousing with stripper Fanne Fox, also in 1974. Like Hays, he had been a powerful committee chairman who had been forced to resign his House seat. The Hays scandal only added to the public’s cynicism and distrust of Washington politicians. The FBI investigation of Hays’s activities led to discovery of similar questionable arrangements, one involving a Texas congressman.

On a personal level, Hays’s aspirations to higher office ended, a textbook case of how far the mighty had fallen. He planned to run for reelection to Congress and possibly as an Ohio favorite son in the 1976 presidential election. He reportedly also had his eye on the Ohio governorship in 1978. Although Hays was elected to a state office in 1978, he never sought public office again after his subsequent defeat. Ironically, the person who defeated Hays for his state representative seat in 1980 was Republican Bob Ney, who later became a congressman as well. Like Hays, Ney was forced to resign his seat for financial corruption; he had been linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal in 2006. Hays, Wayne L.
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Further Reading

  • Apostolidis, Paul, and Juliet A. Williams, eds. Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. A study of politics and political culture in the context of sex scandals.
  • Clark, Marion, and Rudy Maxa. “Closed Session Romance on the Hill.” The Washington Post, May 23, 1976. The news story that broke the scandal.
  • “Ex-Rep Wayne L. Hays of Ohio.” Los Angeles Times, February 11, 1989. A telling obituary of Wayne L. Hays.
  • Moore, Robin. “Kissers and Tellers, I’ve Met Them All.” Oui, December, 1981. A magazine article about women, including Elizabeth Ray, who brought down prominent men.
  • “Wayne L. Hays of Ohio Dies at 77; Scandal Ended Career in Congress.” The New York Times, February 11, 1989. A lengthy obituary of Wayne L. Hays.

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