We’re used to reading a lot of stories about ordinary Joes who have nothing, play the lottery, and win a fortune. They’re heart-warming, and It’s good to see and can really gladden your soul – and perhaps give hope that you might win big one day too. Playing the lottery to win gives a sense of contentment to many – and a chance to dream about what they might be able to do with a lot of money and how they could help others.
There are often strict rules and regulations about who can and can’t play the lottery in any one given country, and these will vary depending on where you live. For instance, those that work for lottery companies might not be able to play, or their own immediately families.
One area where the waters are slightly muddy is whether politicians should be able to play or not. In the USA it seems this is all OK and above board. So, what happens when those in power play the lottery and win? How should we feel then? The following is a selection of stories on when the wealthy get wealthier, politicians who won the lottery.
New York Politicians Win Big
A couple of years ago in New York, not one, but two local politicians had to come forward and announce that they’d played (and won) lottery games. It came in a year during which no state legislators received a pay rise, either. So many people on and off the political scene might have felt a little hard done by.
First of all, Brooklyn state Senator, Martin Dilan revealed in his 2016 financial disclosure that he hit the jackpot, winning $25,000 in February 2016. The money was used as the proceeds for a down payment to buy his first home. He told The Post he’d played and won the WIN 4 and had used his friend’s street address as his numbers after the same guy had convinced him to play the game, even though he might not stand a chance of winning. He went to a local store, and on a whim, put a ticket on the game, and not being able to think of numbers of his own, used the ones his friend always put on his games when he played.
Later in the afternoon, Dilan bumped into the same friend at a local eatery. The pal commented that he was upset he’d not played as his numbers had come up. He was rueful and feeling a little sad as it was the first time in a long while he’d forgotten to play, and now his numbers had finally come good. Dilan remembered his ticket and the numbers he’d played, took it out of his pocket, and said, “I won!” He bought his friend a beer by way of thanks, though it might have done little to take the sour taste of loss from his mouth!
Next was Queens Assemblyman Robert Miller who reported winnings of at least $5,000 but under $20,000. Miller, for his part, declined to comment on anything to do with his win when asked about it, or what he might do with the money when he claimed it.
James Sensenbrenner Jr – a Big Win in 1998
James Sensenbrenner Jr. had spent nineteen years in Congress when he earned the nickname Lucky, after stepping out to a liquor store in Capitol Hill and scooping $250,000.
Way back in 1998, news traveled quickly on the Wisconsin Republican’s luck, after he turned a $2 bet into a magic win. However, he was mystified as to why so many people were interested in him when his career got ignored. Speaking to reporters after the news was announced he said: ”I’m chairman of the Science Committee involved in updating American science policy and the role of Government, academia, and the private sector. I’m deep into the Medicare issue, the space program, and the year 2000 problem. I’ve been grilling Janet Reno on the Judiciary Committee. So why don’t you give me as much attention on these important issues as on the fact that lightning just struck me?”
After he ended the phone call, he commented: “The guy said he was writing this story for the same reason people watch ‘Geraldo’ in the middle of the afternoon.”
It seems Mr. Sensenbrenner is considered an ethics stickler by his peers. His financial disclosures are known for being exacting in detail, listing his stamp collection and all his stock – much of which comes from investments in his Great Grandfather’s company the Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
He says he only ever played the lottery for fun and never expected to win. Indeed, his wife Cheryl confirmed that the conservative Congressman is as squeaky tight with the family budget as with the Federal Government. He was always rated among the top spending cutters by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.
The check was for $180,000 after the automatic $70,000 withholding for Federal taxes. Estimated state taxes from either his Wisconsin or Virginia residences might cost another $50,000. ”We won’t make any decisions about what to do with the money until the tax man computes it,” he said. We hope by now he’s made a decision!
Kevin McCarthy – Small Lottery Win, Big Hopes
When House Speaker John Boehner resigned from the post in 2015, there was one make who emerged to take over from him. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
At that time, the Californian had spent only nine years in the House which was a short tenure and made him the least experienced speaker in congressional history.
But his career had always been defined by sudden rises to power and lucky breaks. The main reason for that, colleagues have long said, is McCarthy’s knack for relationship-building, as well as a talent for fundraising.
His Lucky Lottery Break
McCarthy grew up in Bakersfield California. Agriculture and oil are the dual kings of Kern County’s economy. It was when he was 19 years old he bought a lottery ticket and won $5,000. Instead of spending it all, he decided to be savvy and invest:
“I put the money in the stock market, made a little out of that, And then, at the end of the semester, I took my money out of the market. I refinanced my car, and I went and opened a deli.”
It was this win and working in the Deli that got him interested in politics and conservative idioms. He first became an aide to his local congressman Bill Thomas, a Republican, who eventually chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
He ran for office in 2002 and his rise in Sacramento was even faster than he could have imagined. He was elected minority leader in the California State Assembly when he was still a freshman.
After serving two short terms in Sacramento, he ran for and won the Bakersfield area congressional seat. His was an easy Republican victory in a cycle dominated by Democrats.
He began to bond with his new members by exercising with them and turning his office into a clubhouse.
Seen as a great fundraiser, he raised lots of cash for Republican House candidates and ended up being elected as the majority whip.
So his rise to political fame and greatness was aided and abetted by a lottery win that enabled him to go on and choose the career he wanted. While you may not agree with McCarthy’s politics, you can’t deny that the money he claimed was used in a good way and helped to start his career.
Our previous winner Sensenbrenner was already wealthy and had a tight hold of his own family’s finances. He played for fun and won and stated that he had no idea how he would spend the money. That was some twenty years ago now, and although it was a smaller sum, it still equaled a total that most ordinary people can’t even dream about working for and earning in an entire year.
As we’ve seen, however, the other two stories showed that the big wins happened when these people were actually in power, and this can create a few ethical and moral problems.
How should we feel about this? It raises a lot of questions and debate about whether or not people who are in such a responsible and public role should be able to play the lottery and win, especially when some of their constituents or people that they represent might be living in poverty or without much money to their name.
People play the lottery for all sorts of reasons, to better themselves, to make a difference in their own lives, or to help others. When someone in a position of power wins a lot of money, it can create feelings of unfairness, inequality, and jealousy among those who have little to their name. It might be something that is worth reviewing in the months to come.