Senator Thomas J. Dodd Is Censured for Misappropriating Funds Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

U.S. senator Thomas J. Dodd was censured by his colleagues for misappropriating more than $100,000 in campaign funds and for double billing the government for travel expenses, all for personal use. In the year after Dodd’s censure, the Senate strengthened its rules governing the conduct of public officials.

Summary of Event

On June 23, 1967, the U.S. Senate, for only the seventh time in its existence, censured one of its members. Thomas J. Dodd, a second term senator from Connecticut and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, was the first U.S. senator to be censured specifically for financial wrongdoing. He was accused of using more than $100,000 in campaign contributions for personal expenditures and double billing the government for travel expenses already reimbursed by organizations that paid him for speaking engagements. Campaign contributions;illegal Dodd, Thomas J. Congress, U.S.;Thomas J. Dodd[Dodd] Washington Merry-Go-Round [g]United States;June 23, 1967: Senator Thomas J. Dodd Is Censured for Misappropriating Funds[01260] [c]Government;June 23, 1967: Senator Thomas J. Dodd Is Censured for Misappropriating Funds[01260] [c]Corruption;June 23, 1967: Senator Thomas J. Dodd Is Censured for Misappropriating Funds[01260] [c]Politics;June 23, 1967: Senator Thomas J. Dodd Is Censured for Misappropriating Funds[01260] Boyd, James Pearson, Drew Anderson, Jack

After more than one year of dealing with the accusations against Dodd, the Senate Committee on Standards and Conduct, through its chairman, John Stennis, John Stennis of Mississippi, announced its findings and placed the matter before the Senate for a vote. The Senate committee had been reluctant to tamper with the reputation of a fellow senator, but as substantial documented evidence against Dodd accumulated, the senator himself called for the investigation, perhaps hoping to succeed in minimizing his misdeeds by acting as a victim betrayed by his staff.

On June 23, the full Senate voted on whether to accept the committee’s recommendations for censure. On the first charge, misappropriating campaign contributions for personal use, the vote was 92-5 in favor of censure. One of the five votes favoring Dodd was his own, with dissenting votes cast by Senators John Tower Tower, John of Texas, Strom Thurmond Thurmond, Strom of South Carolina, Abraham A. Ribicoff Ribicoff, Abraham A. of Connecticut, and Russell Long Long, Russell of Louisiana. Long had supported Dodd throughout the proceedings. The vote on the second charge, double-billing, failed to find Dodd guilty, but the vote of 51-45 proved controversial. The press and the public suspected that Dodd was not the only senator who double-billed for travel expenses, and that his fellow senators voted in his favor so that the matter would not be further scrutinized.

The censure did not threaten Dodd’s remaining two and a half years as a senator. He had been duly elected by the voters of Connecticut and only his constituents could unseat him; they did so in 1970 by failing to reelect him. He had entered the Senate race as an independent and split the Democratic vote, which put Lowell Weicker, a Republican, in Dodd’s vacant Senate seat.

An articulate anticommunist, Dodd was a hard-working politician who was devoted to his constituents. As he gained power, however, he increasingly became involved in questionable activities, many inappropriate and some patently illegal. He accepted large cash payments from lobbyists and other representatives of special interests, making it clear that he preferred cash contributions to checks or other traceable financial vehicles. Fund-raising activities in support of Dodd’s political campaigns were held regularly, but there was little documentation of how much money was raised and how these funds were distributed and spent. Furthermore, Dodd kept on his payroll a number of people who did no work and seldom, if ever, appeared in his offices. He accepted the use of a new automobile every year from an affluent and powerful constituent, David Dunbar, in whose name the automobiles were registered. The Dodd family had exclusive use of these cars, for which Dunbar also paid insurance.

Dodd had constructed a fragile network of deceptive practices, presumably to conceal his misappropriation of funds. These deceptions troubled four of Dodd’s conscientious aides. He dismissed James Boyd, an aide who had served him for twelve years, on a trumped-up charge of sexual improprieties with another staff member, Marjorie Carpenter, who was Dodd’s secretary for a number of years. The senator fired both of them, although he later tried to rehire them.

Michael O’Hare, Dodd’s bookkeeper, was troubled by many of the senator’s duplicitous financial practices as well. O’Hare could contest them only at his own risk. In the end, Dodd blamed him for the double billing, falsely claiming that O’Hare’s accounting practices were sloppy. A fourth aide, Terry Golden—O’Hare’s girlfriend—cooperated with the other dismissed aides to document their claims that Dodd had engaged in many unethical or illegal activities, or both, for his personal enrichment.

The four former aides gained access to Dodd’s files by raiding his office clandestinely on a weekend, removing damaging files of documents and photocopying thousands of pages to build the case against Dodd. Before the weekend ended, the four had returned the files but they shared what they had photocopied with newspaper columnist Jack Anderson. Anderson, in collaboration with Drew Pearson, wrote the well-known syndicated column Washington Merry-Go-Round.

Anderson and Pearson wrote a series of shattering columns that revealed a laundry list of infractions allegedly committed by Dodd. All of the revelations were supported by solid evidence. Fearing lawsuits, Washington Post The Washington Post, the local newspaper of record, initially declined to publish the accusatory columns, but they were published nonetheless in other papers that syndicated Washington Merry-Go-Round. Dodd did what he could to control the situation and tried to discredit the aides who had turned against him. In the end, however, public outcry forced the Senate to act.

Dodd declared his innocence and completed his term, serving actively on some key committees—ironically on those committees investigating crime and delinquency—in his final Senate years. His health began to fail, and his financial infractions were brought to the attention of the Internal Revenue Internal Revenue Service Service, which subsequently investigated his finances extensively. Initially, Dodd did not anticipate running for a third term in the Senate, but well into the campaign, he declared his candidacy as an independent. He received about one-quarter of the popular vote and his Senate seat was ceded to the Republican candidate, Weicker. Dodd died in 1971, six months after the election.

Impact

The repercussions of the Dodd hearing and censure were profound. Voting on his censure was unsettling to the senators who had engaged in similar unethical practices, and many became suspicious of their aides. Furthermore, had all the facts documented in the photocopies made by Dodd’s former aides been made public, the effects would have been even more devastating.

Some senators were unsullied by the Dodd affair because they had been meticulously honest in managing their political affairs and thus had little to fear. However, even these senators realized that materials stored in their offices were not sacrosanct, and no person in government was off limits to possible investigation and prosecution. Dodd’s censure led the Senate to strengthen its rules governing the conduct of public officials. More rigorous standards for senators and their employees went into effect as well. The violation of senatorial offices and official files became a high federal crime and a substantial breach of ethics. Campaign contributions;illegal Dodd, Thomas J. Congress, U.S.;Thomas J. Dodd[Dodd] Washington Merry-Go-Round

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyd, James. Above the Law: The Rise and Fall of Senator Thomas J. Dodd. New York: New American Library, 1968. A detailed account of the case against Senator Dodd told by one of his former aides instrumental in bringing documentary evidence of the senator’s misconduct to investigative journalists. A balanced and relatively objective account.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Long, Kim. The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics. New York: Delacorte Press, 2007. A wide-ranging book detailing the various scandals and corrupt practices that have plagued U.S. politics. A good general study of political scandals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pearson, Drew, and Jack Anderson. The Case Against Congress: A Compelling Indictment of Corruption on Capitol Hill. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968. An account of the case against Dodd by the two journalists who first brought public attention to his misdeeds.

Columnist Drew Pearson Exposes Congressman’s Corruption

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Is Excluded from Congress

Senate Denounces Herman E. Talmadge for Money Laundering

Congress Members Censured in House-Page Sex Scandal

Speaker of the House Jim Wright Resigns in Ethics Scandal

Congressman Dan Rostenkowski Is Indicted in House Post Office Scandal

Senator Trent Lott Praises Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Presidential Campaign

Congressman William J. Jefferson Is Indicted for Corruption

Senator David Vitter’s Name Is Found in D.C. Madam’s Address Book

Categories: History Content