Biggest Political Scandals of the 80s

It seems the political arena is filled with scandals in every decade. Some people might look back on the 80s as a happier, optimistic time, but even that decade wasn’t free of its political scandals. Indeed, there are several scandals within these ten years that are still influencing the political scene of the whole world. 

For most of the 80s, Ronald Reagan was the president. This is a noteworthy fact in itself, as no one would have previously thought that an actor could become President. Reagan’s actions actually gave rise to some of the most well-known scandals of the 80s, but there were quite a few other players as well. The television of the 80s was also an influential player here, though it also provided some unforgettable entertainment. 

If we’re interested in the political atmosphere of the 80s, or in politics overall, looking at the political scandals of this time is worth your while. Some of these scandals were so astonishing that they still see to be out of this world. Let’s have a look at some of the better-known scandals of this decade now:

The Iran-Contra Affair

The Iran-Contra affair is one of the most-remembered events when you look up political scandals of the 80s. This started out as a mission to free the American hostages who were being held captive in Lebanon. Ronald Reagan, of course, was the one to head this campaign, but the scandal almost cost him his second term as president. 

In order to get their hostages back, the United States got Iran on their side through the sale of arms to that country. From the money collected from the sales, a rebel group called the Nicaraguan Contras was given American support in an attempt to overthrow the current Lebanese government. 

This mission broke several American policies, including those that dictating non-negotiations with hostage-takers and no ransom payments. US aid to this rebel group was also against the law, as were dealings with terrorist. 

After the attorney general led an investigation, several people in authority were removed from their positions. The role of the president himself was unclear, but Reagan himself stated in his televised address that he was accountable to the Americans. 

The Removal of Gary Hart

Gary Hart was a Democratic senator hailing from Colorado, and would probably have been President if not for a sordid extramarital affair during the 1980s. He lost the previous election by a very narrow margin and was all set to conquer in the next. 

However, the media was following him around on suspicions of an affair for quite some time. While the senator declared that they were welcome to do what they wanted, as he had nothing to hide, he was eventually caught out. In fact, the unfortunate photographs revealing his secret were actually taken when he was on a boat called the ‘Monkey Business’. 

Before this scandal, Hart was the favorite forerunner for Democratic nomination in the election of 1988. As it was, the senator along with his wife and daughter became fodder for the tabloids. While he did compete in other elections after this, his votes were barely 4 or 5 percent. 

In retrospect, many people are now of the opinion that Gary Hart might have been set up. The over-analysis of his personal life and the animalistic nature of some journalists was also under criticism, both then and now. However, the deed was done.

The Abscam Scandal

The Abscam scandal is named after a two-year undercover mission, which lasted until February 1980. Within this operation, Federal agents took on the role of Arab sheikhs and businessmen who offered bribes to get things done. This was one of the largest investigations undertaken by the FBI and also involved Congress members. As a result, no less than five Congressmen and a Senator were implicated. 

Richard Kelly was one of the accused, with phone recordings as evidence too. However, he claimed that he only did it due to his own investigation and that he never took any cash. He also claimed that this accusation was based on the FBI wanting to control a Congress member.

Other Congress members, such as Michael ‘Ozzie’ Myers, were removed from his job. John Jenrette was another and was shaken by the evidence against him.  

All of the people indicted appealed against their accusation as private citizens. However, they didn’t get any leniency. 

The “Keating Five”

The Keating Five is a well-known corruption scandal that dates back to 1989. In this event, the Senate launched an investigation into five US senators, lasting from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. This was a direct result of the previous Savings and Loan crisis, as these innocuous were suspected of interfering in that investigation as well. Of all these senators, only John McCain is still serving. 

The owner of the savings and loan company in question was Charles Keating, who contributed heavily towards the campaigns of each senator. The company was known as the Lincoln Savings and Loan Institution. In 1989, it collapsed heavily and cost the federal government $3 billion in losses. 

While the ongoing investigation was certainly a scandal in itself, the results weren’t all that impressive. After two years of investigation, one senator got a formal reprimand. However, the repercussions were still there, as John McCain received backlash about this event when he ran for President in 2008. 


The political scandals of the 80s might not be too interesting for those who aren’t into politics. However, they’re worth knowing about, as many of the politicians involved are still relevant. In any case, we know that politics is a dirty game, and these scandals prove this.