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Weinergate: Are Political Sex Scandals Illegal?

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 10, 2011 9:51 AM

With Weinergate still on the radar and John Edward's recent indictment, political sex scandals are all the rage. They are certainly sordid and in terrible taste. But, the questions on many Americans' minds may just be: Are sex scandals illegal? Are there any sex scandal laws out there?

Not really. It's not illegal for a private citizen to cheat on his wife - though it is morally reprehensible.

When you think about the legal ramifications of sex scandals, it's not that they violated some sex scandal law - it's that they did something illegal in conjunction with the scandal.

Edwards allegedly misappropriated campaign funds to hide his mistress, which would be in violation of federal law. Former President Bill Clinton lied under oath - committing perjury.

Of course, politicians that end up embroiled in political sex scandals may end up facing repercussions in the form of ethics violations and ethics investigations by Congress. But those waiting for retribution via an ethics investigation may be waiting a long time - the system is apparently very slow.

For example, investigations into ethics charges against Maxine Waters, a democratic representative from California, have been stalled - the allegations are around two years old, reports NPR.

A recent ethics investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel, a democratic congressman from New York, found that he was guilty of 11 congressional rules. Rangel remains in office though. He was only censured for the violations, according to NPR.

Even if sex scandals are not illegal by themselves, it's not like politicians that engage in sleazy activities get away free and clear. The court of public opinion is a harsh one - and considering the voting public is essentially the politician's "employers," politicians can easily get voted out of office when their term is up.

So, are sex scandals illegal by themselves? No, but maybe it does not really matter that there there are no literal "sex scandal laws" against politicians. Having your name and reputation dragged through the mud can be considered a kiss of death for a politician's career - and nothing seems to sell as many papers or cause as much furor as a sex scandal.

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