Political contributions and the mafia

Political contributions and the mafia
Political contributions and the mafia

The mob long ago learned the value of making political campaign contributions to advance the interests of organized crime. Moe Dalitz, the syndicate's number one man in Las Vegas since the 1950s, contributed to candidates of both the Republican and Democratic parties. In this, Moe was simply following a long mob tradition.

According to an estimate by Virgil Peterson, for 27 years head of the Chicago Crime Commission, Al Capone contributed a total of a quarter of a million dollars to the Chicago mayoralty campaign of Big Bill Thompson in 1927. It is also a matter of record that Tommy "Three-Finger Brown" Lucchese in 1949 made a large campaign contribution to the re-election campaign of Bill O'Dwyer for mayor of New York, a contribution made in cash, in small bills, two months after the election.

Richard M. Nixon also was reported to have received mob contributions early in his political career. Meyer Lansky had met Nixon on one of Nixon's numerous visits to Miami. Earlier, when Nixon was practicing law in Whittier, California, Nixon also met Bugsy Siegel, Lansky's close friend, and according to columnist Drew Pearson, Siegel's right-hand man, Mickey Cohen, collected and then donated $26,000 in contributions to Nixon's campaigns for Congress.

Although Nixon would thereafter be linked fairly often to Lansky, especially in forays to the plush Lansky gambling casinos on Grand Bahama and Paradise Island (the latter financed in part by a corporation called Mary Carter Paints—later Resorts International—in which Nixon's close friend and mentor, Thomas Dewey, was a heavy investor), any quid pro quo may well have been an exaggeration.

Lansky was always a virulent anti-communist. Nixon's politics always appealed to him, especially because they represented the idea of firmness in the world, a firmness against radicalism that might have prevented Castro's rise in Cuba and the loss for Lansky of a multimillion-dollar gambling empire.

Still, when the mob donates, it generally expects a payoff. The syndicate contributed $200,000 to elect Forrest Smith governor of Missouri in 1948; Kansas City crime boss Charley Binaggio claimed Smith would throw both Kansas City and St. Louis to syndicate gambling enterprises. Smith was elected, but Binaggio could not deliver. Binaggio was promptly assassinated.

New Jersey was for years considered to be dominated by the organized crime political money dispensed in the 1940s and 1950s by syndicate boss Longy Zwillman. In 1946 Republican governor Harold G. Hoffman personally solicited financial support from Zwillman, and, in 1949, Zwillman offered Democratic gubernatorial candidate Elmer Wene $300,000 in campaign funds with only the small proviso that he, Zwillman, be allowed to name the state's attorney general. Wene declined the offer and lost the election.

Oddly, while most mafiosi tend to contribute to the Democratic Party machines in political control in mob centers of operations, they often tend personally to lean to Republican politics. As informer Vinnie Teresa put it: "We vote whatever is the best way to make money. If it's going to be one of these guys who is going to be on the reform kick all the time, we'll all band together and vote against him. I'm a registered Democrat but I voted for Nixon in 1968, and I bet the mob really turned out for Nixon in 1972."

It has been said that in recent years the mob went the same way Teamsters Union money went in national campaigns.