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November 4, 1929
Senator Censured in Lobbyist Case

Photo of Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut
Hiram Bingham (R-CT)

When former Senator Hiram Bingham died in 1956, one obituary writer observed that the Connecticut Republican "had crammed [many] careers into his lifetime, any one of which might have sufficed for most men." Over the course of his 80 years, Bingham had been a scholar, explorer, aviator, businessman, and politician. Born in 1875, he earned degrees from Yale, Berkeley, and Harvard. With a doctorate in South American history, he traveled that continent extensively. In 1911, he became the first explorer to uncover the fabulous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Bingham taught at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton and wrote more than a dozen books related to South American geography and history. In the early 1920s, he entered Connecticut politics and won races for lieutenant governor, governor, and U.S. senator.

This genial and accomplished man appeared destined for a distinguished Senate career. Then he made a poor decision. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee in September 1929, Bingham asked the Connecticut Association of Manufacturers to detail one of its lobbyists to his office during the committee's consideration of tariff legislation. When the Finance Committee closed its deliberations to the public, Bingham placed the lobbyist on the Senate payroll so he could attend those sessions as a Senate staffer. He neglected, however, to tell other committee members that the lobbyist also remained on the association's payroll. As he had salary funds for only one staff position, Bingham executed a plan that was irregular even by the murky standards of his day. His own clerk, although still performing his duties, went off the Senate payroll for the duration of the hearings. The lobbyist then passed his Senate salary on to the clerk.

When an ongoing Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigation discovered this arrangement, Bingham defended it by saying that the association's representative was not the kind of lobbyist who visited members "trying to get them to do something they did not want to do." The subcommittee condemned this relationship, but recommended no formal Senate action. The matter would have died there but for Bingham's decision to attack the subcommittee's inquiry as a partisan witch hunt. This awakened the Senate's interest and resulted in a resolution of censure. On November 4, 1929, the Senate voted 54 to 22 to censure Bingham. After leaving the Senate following the 1932 Democratic landslide, he explored new careers, including that of lobbyist.

Reference Items:

Bingham, Alfred M.  Portrait of an Explorer: Hiram Bingham, Discoverer of Machu Picchu.  Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989.

Bingham, Woodbridge.  Hiram Bingham: A Personal History.  Boulder: Bin Lan Zhen Publishers, 1989.  

Butler, Anne M., and Wendy Wolff.  United States Senate Election, Expulsion and Censure Cases, 1793-1990.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995.


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