WASHINGTON – Political scandal cast a long shadow over Washington in 2006, forcing some lawmakers who began the year sitting in cushy offices in Congress to finish the year sitting in jail, rehab or back home where they came from.
In a year tarnished with corruption, voters booted problem-plagued incumbents out of office while others resigned before the November election amid headlines of bribery, corruption and fraud.
Political scandal weighed on the minds of voters and they responded at the polls, said Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group.
"It dominated the elections. There were exit polls that showed voters were more concerned with more corruption," Sloan said. "It was the year of corruption."
The October surprise of former Rep. Mark Foley's e-mail and instant messages with teenage congressional pages wrapped up a year tainted by scandals involving ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, and former Republican Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Bob Ney.
Foley's fall from grace was the biggest scandal of the year as it included sex, political injury and fallback on fellow Republicans.
But the most significant resignation came from the former House majority leader, Texas Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay. His political demise differed from the others in that he's already on the comeback trail, authoring a blog on the Internet and making frequent television appearances.
The following are FOXNews.com's picks for the top political scandals of the year:
Former Rep. Mark Foley's Page Problem
The Florida Republican entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility shortly after he resigned from Congress on Sept. 29 following questions from a news media outlet about inappropriate e-mail exchanges between him and a male teenage former congressional page.
Foley's attorneys revealed that the congressman is gay and said he had been molested by a Catholic priest when he was a teenage altar boy. The Rev. Anthony Mercieca admitted inappropriate contact with Foley 40 years ago, but denied ever having sex with him.
Investigations by Florida authorities and federal officials are under way to determine if Foley broke any laws relating to his online chats with the young man who had been hired by Louisiana Rep. Rodney Alexander, D-La., and other former pages whose conversations with Foley came up during the investigation. Foley's lawyers say the former congressman never had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.
The House Ethics Committee released a report in December that found no lawmakers broke House rules, but Republican leaders could have done a better job in investigating allegations against Foley.
"The other scandals [this year] were about money," said Brian Darling, director for U.S. Senate relations for the Heritage Foundation. "This one had an element of sexual intrigue that makes it very unusual for Washington."
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay Settles Down in Virginia
DeLay, an 11-term representative from Texas, resigned from Congress in June amid a campaign finance investigation. DeLay denies he violated any state laws when he funneled corporate funds through the Republican National Committee to Texas House candidates in the 2002 campaign. Defense attorneys say those laws were not on the books when the money transfers took place and therefore are not illegal.
Two of the charges were dropped, though prosecutors are trying to reinstate them for the Jan. 24 hearing. The courts also forced DeLay to remain on the ballot despite having quit Congress and claiming that he lives in Virginia now, not the Houston district he represented. Democrat Rep. Nick Lampson won DeLay's seat after defeating write-in candidate Houston councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.
DeLay did not go quietly, however, giving a final jab to Democrats in his June 9 farewell address and launching a blog that calls on conservatives to fight back against misrepresentation of their ideas. He has never been and still is not camera shy.
"He's starting his rebound," Darling said. "Washington is a funny town. You can have troubles one day which lead you to leave your congressional seat and the next day you are working from the outside."
Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham Liquidates Holdings
After months of questionable accounting and legal wrangling, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., was sentenced on March 3 to eight years and four months in federal prison following his conviction for tax evasion and conspiracy charges. The bribery scandal revealed Cunningham, who resigned from Congress the previous November after 15 years in politics, had accepted money and gifts in exchange for his help in steering government contracts from his position on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Cunningham, a highly decorated Navy fighter pilot in Vietnam whose successes were idolized in the blockbuster film "Top Gun," now wears a different government-issued uniform in his jail cell in California. The IRS and FBI split the proceeds from the March auction of many of the items he had purchased with some of the $2.4 million in bribes. Other gifts he had received included a Rolls-Royce, a yacht and antiques.
Ex-Lobbyist Jack Abramoff Reports to Prison
Once among the most influential lobbyists in Washington, Abramoff is now serving time at a federal prison camp in Cumberland, Md., after pleading guilty in January to honest services fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion relating to his service to Indian tribes, many of whom were his clients.
Abramoff wasn't immediately sent to jail as he was out helping Department of Justice prosecutors. The federal bribery investigation has already touched several lawmakers and Washington power brokers, including DeLay, former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and former General Service Administration chief of staff David Safavian. In October, Safavian was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in his obstruction of justice case.
Abramoff's downfall also helped a Democrat defeat Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, who received about $150,000 in donations from Abramoff clients. The names are said to still be coming.
Abramoff reported to prison in November to begin serving a sentence of almost six years for involvement in a fraudulent deal to purchase casino ships. That is separate from the plea relating to the corruption case in Washington, D.C., for which he has yet to be sentenced.
Rep. Bob Ney Leaves Congress With Head Bowed
In October, the Ohio Republican pleaded guilty to improperly accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips, meals, sports tickets and casino chips while trying to win favors for Abramoff. He also fessed up to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
Throughout the relationship with Abramoff, Ney had benefited from all-expense-paid and reduced-price trips to play golf in Scotland in August 2002, to gamble and vacation in New Orleans in May 2003 and to vacation in New York in August 2003. Prosecutors put the total cost of the trips at more than $170,000.
Sentencing for Ney, 52, is on Jan. 19, and while he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, prosecutors agreed to recommend a term of 27 months. He could also face a fine of between $5,000 and $60,000.
Ney entered a rehabilitation clinic for alcoholism in September, but didn't resign from Congress until days before the November election and risked being expelled by lawmakers who said he should not have been earning his congressional salary after pleading guilty. Ney had planned not to run for re-election long before he took the deal with prosecutors. The seat he held for six terms went to Democrat Zack Space.
Rep. William Jefferson Returns for 9th Term
The Louisiana Democrat held on to his congressional seat in a December runoff election after scandal plagued his campaign.
Federal officials searched Jefferson's homes in New Orleans and Washington and conducted an 18-hour search of his congressional office on the weekend of May 20-21. Law enforcement officials said they found $90,000 in cash in Jefferson's freezer at his New Orleans home. That was part of a briefcase full of cash that Jefferson allegedly was videotaped taking from a Virginia executive's car.
Two men, including a former Jefferson aide, have been convicted as part of the bribery scandal. Jefferson maintains innocence, and the Congressional Black Caucus has stood by him and suggested racial undertones are motivating the hunt. The congressional search also spurred a major uproar from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who said it was a breach of the public trust to search their offices and seize documents and computers that may have constituent information in them.
Jefferson has not been charged, but the scandal forced House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi to pull Jefferson from his committee assignment on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy Checks Into Rehab
The Rhode Island Democrat crashed his Ford Mustang into a Capitol barrier in May, and checked into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., several days later. The son of Sen. Ted Kennedy said he needed help for his addiction to prescription drugs.
Kennedy was given three citations, but was not administered any routine field sobriety tests. Capitol Police instead escorted the congressman home, raising questions about whether he received special treatment because of his elected position.
Kennedy, 39, denied being under the influence of alcohol during the car crash but said he was taking prescriptions for nausea and sleeplessness, including the sleep-aid drug, Ambien. He went on to win re-election in November.
Off the Hook: Sen. Harry Reid Cleared of Taking Improper Gifts
The Senate Ethics Committee cleared incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of wrongdoing in December after allegations surfaced that he broke Senate rules in accepting free ringside seats at boxing matches in his home state of Nevada.
Reid, former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, attended three Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 without paying for the tickets provided by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Reid, who was supporting legislation at the time to create a federal agency to oversee boxing, something the commission opposed, said he went to the matches because they helped him understand boxing regulations. He later said he wouldn't do it again.