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Herman Eugene Talmadge
Democrat, Georgia (1957-1980)
The Honorable Herman Talmadge, powerful chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, got blasted by the Senate Ethics Committee in 1979. After 15 months of deliberation, the Committee voted unanimously to denounce Talmadge and recommend that he pay back nearly $13,000 in improper expense funds channeled through a secret bank account. The Committee, under Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson, accused Talmadge of "gross neglect of his duty," his financial conduct "reprehensible," and said he brought "dishonor and disrepute" to the Senate.
Most people would be mortified by a unanimous denouncement from their peers. Not Talmadge: he called it a "personal victory." (What?) "There is no finding of intentional wrong doing. There is no recommendation of censure," Talmadge by now was spinning like a top.
Talmadge had it rough on the home front. He was battling against alcohol. He went through a bitter, front-page divorce, and some of the allegations ended up in the Ethics Committee investigations. Mrs. Talmadge was dragged before the Ethics Committee, and reluctantly testified.
She shocked the committee and reporters by noting that Ol' Herman kept $45,000 in $100 bills in his overcoat. She dipped into it for household expenses. In early years, she said, it was nickels and dimes, then it became $100 bills. One of the charges against Talmadge was that he converted campaign contributions to his own use through a secret bank account. Mrs. Talmadge didn't know where the money came from, but she told the Senators that the overcoat often traveled back and forth between Washington and their home in Georgia. Who transported the coat, the Ethics Committee asked: "My former husband. The Senator," she replied. [Click here for other observations by family and wives on other BadBoys].
Would this effect his chances for re-election in 1980? "The ultimate ethics committee," Talmadge said, "are the people of Georgia." [For other pearls of wisdom, check the Quote Board]. In 1980, the people of Georgia chose Republican Mack Mattingly over Talmadge.
Sources: Myra McPherson, "Reluctant Witness--Betty Talmadge Testifies," Washington Post, June 13, 1979, E1; Bill Richards, "Panel Votes to Denounce Talmadge," Washington Post, Sept. 15, 1979.