June 13: The Rare but Shameful Censure of a Sitting U. S. Senator


Today in 1967, the U.S. Senate took up the motion that would lead to the formal censure of second-term Connecticut Senator Thomas J. Dodd for financial improprieties. The motion to censure stemmed from accusations that Dodd had used funds from his reelection campaign for personal use. Dodd became one of only eight people ever formally censured by the U. S. Senate, and the first since Joseph McCarthy in 1954.

Senator Thomas J. Dodd

A lifelong Connecticut resident, Thomas Dodd first entered the public spotlight as a successful attorney who served as the second-ranking lawyer in the Nuremburg Trials of 1945-1946. After serving as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms, Dodd was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, and re-elected in 1964.

In early 1966, a pair of investigative reporters based in Washington, D.C. began publishing a series of newspaper columns detailing unethical behavior by Dodd, ranging from alcoholism and verbal abuse of staff to financial misconduct. In April, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee began a formal inquiry into the Senator’s conduct, with a special focus on potential misuse of campaign funds.

After a year-long investigation, the Senate committee issued its report in April 1967. The committee concluded that Dodd had indeed double billed taxpayers for travel expenses, and had pocketed over 25 percent of the money collected at political fundraisers he hosted during his reelection campaign. Those funds, the report found, were used for “personal purposes such as income taxes, home improvements, and payments to family members.”

The Senate’s formal review of the evidence against Senator Dodd took 10 days. Then, the Senators agreed to censure Dodd by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 92 to 5. (Dodd himself cast one of the five opposing votes.)

Despite his censure, Thomas Dodd remained politically active for the three remaining years of his senate term, successfully sponsoring the Gun Control Act of 1968 and co-drafting a federal ban on LSD in the same year. When the Connecticut Democratic Party refused to endorse him for reelection in 1970, Dodd ran as an independent. He lost his seat to Republican Lowell Weicker.

Dodd died of a heart attack in his Old Lyme, Connecticut home the following year. Not long after his death, his son Christopher Dodd took up the mantle of national politics, serving as a Democratic U.S. Senator from Connecticut for 30 years from 1981 – 2011.

Further Reading

The Censure Case of Thomas J. Dodd of Connecticut (1967),” United States Senate archives

David E. Koskoff, “Senator Tom Dodd Remains Defiant to the End,” Stamford Advocate

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