02/18/2014 06:07 EST | Updated 04/20/2014 05:59 EDT

The 10 Most Infamous Real-Life Backdoor Political Deals

Sometimes it isn't the government that's to blame for back door deals. Back in 1869, two wily financiers, Jay Gould and James Fisk, thought they could outsmart the government and corner the gold market, but were foiled by the administration. Gould and Fisk tried to buy massive amounts of gold at a low price and then sell high using insider information.

In honour of the highly anticipated return of Netflix's House of Cards, here's a list of backroom deals that happened in real life -- that make Francis Underwood's corrupt character seem all the more believable.


Bribery, corruption, mobsters, politicians, and undercover FBI operations -- what else do you need for a great Hollywood thriller? Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the movie loosely based on the FBI's Abscam operation from the late 1970s and early '80s, American Hustle, is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The story is just crazy. While American Hustle honestly announces "some of this happened" for artistic purposes, the FBI really did target elected officials who had a tendency to accept backdoor deals by offering them stacks of $100 bills. Of the 31 officials targeted, the FBI brought down a United States senator, six congressmen, one member of the New Jersey State senate, members of the Philadelphia City council, the Mayor of Camden, N.J., and an inspector for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Teapot Dome Scandal

The relationship between Big Oil and U.S. politicians stretches through the decades. During the presidency of Warren Harding, in the 1920s, Mammoth Oil and Pan American Petroleum bribed the U.S. Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall with $404,000 -- in exchange for access to the Teapot Dome oil fields in Wyoming, which was reserved for emergency use by the U.S. Navy. The Wall Street Journal exposed the bribes and Fall was found guilty of bribery in 1929 and fined $100,000. That hundred grand, which was definitely a lot for the time, must have gone a lot farther when the stock market crashed in the same year. Before Watergate, Teapot Dome was the most infamous backroom political deal.

Chen Shui-Bian Scandals

From rags to riches to political crook, Taiwan's former president, Chen Shui-bian -- and his family -- had a taste for betraying their country's trust. First it was Chen's son-in-law who was accused of insider trading. Then, his wife got caught wiring $21 million in campaign funds to offshore bank accounts. Chen himself, who was heralded as a hero for rising up from poverty into power, embezzled $3.15 million and accepted $12 million in bribes, according to the BBC. He is currently serving 20 years in prison, which was brought down from an original life sentence.

Florida State Recount

In the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the results in Florida were too close to call, so a recount was performed. Unlike the other scandals on the list, this one is hard to conclusively pin on a single culprit, but it is widely alleged that there was some foul play, considering the amount of voters who were rejected from low-income or minority backgrounds. According to the New York Times, the recount showed that Bush had won, but if those voters were eligible, Gore would have taken the state. Bush went on to serve two terms in the White House.

Corrupt Governor Rod Blagojevich

Scandals aren't just a thing of the past. Former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich is the most recent politician to betray the public's trust on this list, and he surely won't be the last. The FBI began investigating Blagojevich for corruption in 2005 and he was impeached from office in January 2009 due to the developing scandal and investigation. It turned out that Blagojevich had committed wide ranges of corruption, from wire fraud to attempted extortion to conspiracy to solicit bribes. In 2011, Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison on 17 total charges of corruption and is still trying to weasel his way out of his convictions.

Black Friday 1869

Sometimes it isn't the government that's to blame for back door deals. Back in 1869, two wily financiers, Jay Gould and James Fisk, thought they could outsmart the government and corner the gold market, but were foiled by the administration. Gould and Fisk tried to buy massive amounts of gold at a low price and then sell high using insider information. President Grant caught on to the scheme thanks to a suspicious letter and a tip from his secretary, who was asked if he wanted in on the scheme. Grant tried to raise the price of gold fast while Gould quickly tried to sell. The result was a major crash in the market and in the end, Gould and Fisk got away without prison time thanks to a couple of world-class lawyers.


With the costly and questionable wars overseas and heaps of debt he got the country into, it's pretty safe to say that President George W. Bush won't go down in history as the most-liked U.S. president of all time. In 2006, his administration tried to get away with firing nine U.S. attorneys because they didn't agree with the administration politically. Using the freshly minted Patriot Act, Bush replaced the lawyers with interim attorneys that were more agreeable to the cause. Former attorney general Alberto Gonzales took the brunt of the responsibility as he resigned from his position a year later. In 2010, the Department of Justice determined that the firings were inappropriate, but undeserving of charges.

Iran-Contra Affair

When President Ronald Reagan had the opportunity to negotiate the safety of hostages held by an Iranian-affiliated group in Lebanon, the public was under the impression that the hostages were rescued without the trading of any hostages. They believed it because in a televised national address on November 13, 1986 President Reagan said it: "We did not ­-- repeat -- did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages -- nor will we," as quoted in a recent article by Salon. It turned out that the Reagan administration had in fact sold weapons to the hostage-takers and diverted the funds to support contra rebels fighting the communist regime in Nicaragua. The scandal threw Reagan's credibility into question, especially with Watergate still fresh on voters' minds.

Jack Abramoff Lobbying Scandal

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's corruption charges were so extensive that it took over 100 FBI officers to work the case. One of the most jaw-dropping crimes he pulled off was defrauding Native American tribes out of $82 million. He also is accused of bribing politicians, including a $50,000 deal with a congressional staffer to secure their help in killing an internet gambling law that would have interfered with his business plans. Abramoff eventually pleaded guilty in 2006, and was sentenced to over five years in prison -- and ordered to pay $21 million in restitution.


Before every scandal had "gate" attached to the tail end of it, two hard-nosed muckraking journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, brought down a U.S. president in the 1970s. The story began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, which was traced back to the White House. When other journalists might have given up, Woodward and Bernstein dug deeper and found that President Richard Nixon's administration was linked up with "dirty tricks" -- including harassment of political groups and misuse of power. The film documenting Watergate, All the President's Men, should be required watching to understand the issue of investigative journalism at the Washington Herald and Slugline in House of Cards.


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