The Teapot Dome Scandal

By LATON MCCARTNEY

Americans have one vote apiece, but that equality doesn’t extend to economics. Those with the most money have often paid for political access and influence — as true in the 1920s as it is today. Financial journalist McCartney meticulously describes the systematic corruption of Warren Harding’s White House in The Teapot Dome Scandal. Harding himself, McCartney notes, had won the 1920 presidential race by accepting millions of dollars in secret campaign contributions from oil companies. The author lays out a compelling case that Republican Harding had been truly “bought” by Big Oil — and that he paid them back when elected. The poker-loving, skirt-chasing president proceeded to nominate his poker buddy Albert Fall for secretary of the interior: Fall’s top priority was to “privatize” government land for commercial development. Fall would grant leases to Harding’s biggest campaign contributors, allowing them to drill for oil on federally controlled lands. The richest prize was the now-infamous Teapot Dome in Wyoming, which Fall leased to oil baron Ed Doheny. Of course, Fall took his cut, receiving large bribes from oilmen like Doheny and Harry Sinclair, and McCartney doggedly follows the money trail. His thorough account of this massive scandal makes gripping reading — and reminds us of the perpetually corrosive effects that money has on the political system.
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