8 Big Hypocrites in Business and Politics

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- It may not be among the seven deadly sins, but hypocrisy certainly plagues us.

From corporations to politicians, there is a perpetual flood of hypocrisy even if we call it by another name -- flip-flopping, compromise or changing your mind.

There is Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF), as sex-obsessed a company as there is -- warning Jersey Shore star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino to stop wearing its clothes because "this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans." This came after the retailer was selling shirts emblazoned with "The Fitchuation."

Tea Party protesters have demanded that the government leave whatever entitlements or support they get alone ("Hands off my Medicare," one infamous sign read) even as they seek to eliminate "handouts" for others.

And, as we look at some of the folks who have been poster children for their perceived hypocrisy in recent years, we start with someone whose Thursday press conference might have had some investors and voters doing double-takes:

Jon Corzine
A headline-grabbing hypocrite in recent days is Jon Corzine, former New Jersey governor, U.S. senator and former Goldman Sachs ( GS) CEO.

This week, Corzine was grilled by a Congressional panel regarding his former role as CEO of MF Global Holdings. Summarily fired (although with a nice $12 million severance package) Corzine and the now bankrupt firm apparently have no idea what happened to an estimated $1.2 billion in client money.

Checking the couch cushions will be of little help. The convoluted errors that led to the missing assets involved repurchasing transactions that gambled on European sovereign debt and the potential commingling of client and company funds.

We'll let others judge the legality and competency of MF Global's maneuvers. Our eye is on Corzine's very expensive brand of hypocrisy.

Corzine, once a powerful Democratic voice, was a champion of Wall Street reform. As a senator, he was a co-author of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and, post-Enron, was a keen proponent of legislation to reduce risk in 401(k) plans.

Throughout the financial crisis of 2007-08, he was outspoken on the need for financial firms to be safely leveraged, with sufficient liquidity, to mitigate the impact of risky strategies that failed.

Great ideas, and it would have been wonderful if Corzine followed his own advice. Instead, under his leadership, MF Global took on risk it couldn't afford and reportedly leveraged its equity at a rate of 40-1 -- far worse than the apocalyptic Lehman Brothers ratio of 30-to-1.

Donald Trump
One is certainly entitled to change their mind, especially when politics are concerned.

So one shouldn't read too much into the fact that in 1999, despite having identified himself as "conservative," Donald Trump was a defector from the Republican Party.

No fan of George W. Bush, Trump made a decision perhaps not that surprising given that the real estate mogul had also, in his book Art of the Deal (Ballantine Books, 2004), even expressed skepticism about the abilities of Ronald Reagan, a president he implied was a "con man" and whose leadership led him to "question whether there's anything beneath that smile."

Now, back in the good graces of the GOP, Trump flirted with a run for the Oval Office and has fashioned himself as a kingmaker by sponsoring a presidential debate this month. (Candidates Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and John Huntsman have declined to appear, the latter two with harsh words for The Donald. That means the participants are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who said of the others, "That's what's so wrong with politics today -- hypocrisy.")

As a fierce Obama critic and a born-again Republican, Trump has displayed no small measure of hypocrisy and opportunism.

Evidence can be found by comparing and contrasting what he wrote in his book The America We Deserve (Renaissance Books, 2000) with more current sound bites.

This year Trump called "Obamacare" a "disaster" and a "bad concept" that is far too expensive for the government to accept. The Trump of 2000, though, wrote: "We must have universal health care. Our objective should be to make reforms for the moment and, longer term, to find an equivalent of the single-payer plan that is affordable, well-administered and provides freedom of choice."

"We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing," he added, citing as a model the Canadian health care system.

Tax the rich? Trump may now say such a plan is Obama-flavored socialism at its worst. Yet he wrote: "I would impose a one-time, 14.25% tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth over $10 million. For individuals, net worth would be calculated minus the value of their principal residence." He floated the idea as a means to reduce the national debt and bolster the Social Security Trust Fund.

Trump's policy reversals are not sitting well with at least some advocates of limited government.

"Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a recent statement. "His love for a socialist-style universal health care system and his alarming obsession with protectionist policies are automatic disqualifiers among free-market conservatives."

As for China, Trump has stated his desire to see a "trade war" and has used a particularly Oedipal obscenity to decry that nation's efforts to undervalue its currency and diminish American manufacturing. Things would be far greater if the U.S wasn't so dependent on Chinese goods, he has said on numerous occasions, once declaring that it was "raping" the U.S.

Tough words. But, as reported by media outlets such as Salon.com, much of the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection of menswear is made in China, as are souvenir tchotchkes such as the teddy bears he sells at the Trump Store in New York's Trump Tower.

Ted Haggard
Sex scandals are not limited to any gender, race or creed. The ones that gain the most attention, of course, are those involving the rich, powerful and famous -- doubly so if they happen to be a religious leader.

There are far too many sex crimes and indiscretions by religious leaders to document in this space, from the scandals that have roiled the Catholic Church to Jim Bakker.

We'll be content to focus on Ted Haggard as a shining example of the hypocrisy born when lust collides with faith.

Haggard, an evangelical pastor, was the founder of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and one-time head of the National Association of Evangelicals. Within 22 years, his church grew from 20 people meeting in the basement of the home he shared with wife Gayle to 14,000 people meeting in a $50 million campus, Haggard says on his Web site.

After years of preaching that homosexuality is a sin, and deploying his political muscle against same-sex marriage initiatives, Haggard was un-closeted in 2006 when male escort/masseur Mike Jones came forward to describe a three-year pay-for-sex arrangement.

As bad as the news was, things got worse: Haggard was also revealed to have bought and used crystal methamphetamine. (Jones had saved answering machine messages with the pastor requesting the drug.)

Then a former church member came forward to reveal what he described as nonconsensual sexual activity. (Haggard allegedly masturbated in front of the 22-year-old.)

At various stages of the controversy, including a failed lie detector test, Haggard denied sex acts with Jones and claimed he bought drugs ... but never used them.

Officials at New Life Church weren't buying the excuses and severed all ties with Haggard. He is building a new ministry, St. James Church.

"His emergence from crisis has proven him to be a man of faith and courage and he is committed to offering hope and help to those who are hurting or suffering or dealing with crises," Haggard's Web site says. "St. James Church is built on the foundation of biblical teaching and the 'tried by fire' understanding of the teachings of Jesus that Ted and Gayle have gained as a result of their trials."

Al Gore
Think "climate change" and "environmentalism" and former Vice President Al Gore likely comes to mind.

Since his failed bid for the White House, Gore has been a dedicated crusader for lowering carbon footprints and reducing the emissions that hasten global warming.

It's debatable if Gore's lifestyle is completely in sync with the scripts of his well-paid speaking engagements.

In 2007, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (now known as the Beacon Center for Tennessee) tallied public records and found that Gore's 20-room home racked up nearly a $30,000-a-year energy bill and used more than 20 times the average kilowatt hours of the national household average.

The rumor-debunking site Snopes.com took a look at the claims:

"Some important points not covered in the report, however, was whether equating the Gores' home to the average American home was really a relevant comparison. A spokesperson for the Gore family responded by noting some mitigating factors, such as the fact that the Gores' Nashville residence isn't an 'average' house -- it's about four times larger than the average new American home built in 2006, and it essentially functions as both a residence and a business office since both Al and Tipper work out of their home. The Tennessean also noted that the Gores had been paying a $432-per-month premium on their monthly electricity bills in order to obtain some of their electricity from 'green' sources (i.e., solar or other renewable energy sources). Other factors (such as the climate in the area where the home is located and its size) make the Gore home's energy usage comparable to that of other homes in the same area."

Gore's occasional chartering of private jets and his allowing zinc mining on property he owns has similarly riled up his detractors.

Michele Bachmann
The problem with running for president is that the harsh glare of the media spotlight shines brightest on a candidate's failure to reconcile word and deed.

Michele Bachmann, a U.S. representative from Minnesota, has long been a strong conservative voice within the Republican Party, especially when it comes to fiscal discipline and shrinking the size and scope of government.

She's opposed government spending in nearly all its myriad forms -- from health care reform to TARP bailouts, welfare programs and subsidies.

Critics are quick to point to her office's seeking of federal grants and subsidies, some of them through the much-attacked stimulus plan. One could argue, however, that it was prudent to procure her constituencies their fair share of money that would otherwise just be spent elsewhere.

It is harder to defend how she and her family personally benefited.

As first uncovered by the Los Angeles Times, the Bachmann family farm in Wisconsin, owned by her father-in-law with Bachmann as a partner) got roughly $260,000 in federal subsidies over 13 years. Her husband's counseling clinic got $30,000 in state and federal grants.

Bachmann is far from the only Tea Party-minded official to rail against government spending with an extended palm.

Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist elected to Congress this year, won his Maryland district with a conservative, Tea Party-friendly, anti-Obamacare platform.

Nevertheless, according to the Web site Politico, Harris "reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect" 28 days after his swearing-in and "asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap."

Then there was U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who, despite his protests over the Obama administration spending money on green energy initiatives, also asked for a Department of Energy grant for his state's solar industry.

Joe Walsh, a Republican U.S. Representative from Illinois, has won Tea Party favor for his demands of fiscal responsibility and blistering attacks on the "shame" that should be felt by Obama. Alas, the champion of financial responsibility is about $100,000 behind in child support payments. (He also skipped the president's joint address to Congress on jobs, saying "I don't see the point of being a prop for another of the president's speeches," then went to the White House Christmas Party, described by Talking Points Memo as "an annual event where you wait in line for a chance to get your picture taken with the president and hang out with other guests.")

Barney Frank
Frank, a Democrat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. House, recently announced that he will not seek reelection but that he doesn't think his status will weaken efforts to fully implement new financial reform legislation that bears his name.

While Republicans battle against the Dodd-Frank Act (blocking former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray from becoming director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example), Frank will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him during his final year on Capitol Hill.

But while he paints himself as a crusader against Wall Street excess and risk, Frank has seen nothing wrong with courting financial firms and banks for campaign donations.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a repository of campaign finance information, people and PACs associated with Goldman Sachs have ponied up $9,000 for Frank this year and the "Securities and investment" sector were the top donors by sector (adding more than $55,000 to his war chest).

In October, Frank drew conservative scrutiny for a $2,500-a-head fundraiser at the home of Charles Myers, a senior investment banking adviser at Evercore Partners. That event included representatives of several financial institutions.

Is it hypocrisy for a self-proclaimed watchdog to solicit money from those he seeks to oversee?

Frank doesn't see it that way. "If you take money from them, but you don't vote for the things they want, how does that put you in conflict?" he rhetorically asked during an interview with Politico.

Frank's partner for the financial reform legislation, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), had similarly collected donations from the sector he sought to rein in over the years. Among his donors were Citigroup ( C), AIG ( AIG) and Royal Bank of Scotland ( RBS).

President Barack Obama
The commander in chief has occasionally been forced to explain why his rhetoric failed to match his actions. Like any politician, there are numerous past pledges that have gone ignored (candidate Obama said he would close the Guantanamo Bay military prison, for example, but as president he's supported its continuation).

This year, when Republicans sought to scuttle efforts to raise the nation's debt ceiling, Obama chastised them for putting politics above the nation's welfare (House Speaker John Boehner described Obama as belittling opposition by acting as though he was "the only adult in the room").

It was widely pointed out by his critics, however, that in 2006 Obama was among Senate Democrats who voted against a debt ceiling increase sought by President George W. Bush.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, the president conceded the flip.

"I think that it's important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a president," he said. "When you're a senator ... this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars. As president, you start realizing, you know what, we can't play around with this stuff. This is the full faith and credit of the United States. And so that was just an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country. And I'm the first one to acknowledge it."

Warren Buffet
For various reasons, billionaire Warren Buffet got under a lot of people's skin when he championed call to "tax the rich."

In a now famous op-ed piece for the The New York Times, Buffet urged that we "stop coddling the super-rich."

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," he wrote, adding that "these and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. "

It's a theme the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) has sounded before, often by pondering why his secretary pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does as a multibillionaire.

Critics have charged that if Buffet was really so civic-minded when it comes to taxes, there would be no need for Berkshire Hathaway to have been waging a multiyear fight with the IRS over what it owes for several years between 2002-09.

According to the company's the annual report in 2010, it expected a resolution on the matter and had roughly $1 billion budgeted to cover any resulting liability.

Last month, NetJets, a private jet-sharing business that is a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, escalated its own beef with the IRS, challenging a $643 million tax assessment. Its claim is that, despite IRS claims to the contrary, its service does not legally require a per-passenger ticket tax.

There is, of course, a difference between fighting a general effect on a tax bracket and fighting specific cases in court in which a company may be in the right. But at least Buffett can't argue his companies are being coddled by the government.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

RELATED STORIES:




Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

More from Personal Finance

How Small-Cap Stocks Can Protect Your Portfolio From a Trade War

How Small-Cap Stocks Can Protect Your Portfolio From a Trade War

When Is It 'Worth It' to Work With a Financial Advisor?

When Is It 'Worth It' to Work With a Financial Advisor?

Why Millennials Are Ditching Stocks for ETFs

Why Millennials Are Ditching Stocks for ETFs

Amazon Prime Day 2018: When Is It and What Should You Know?

Amazon Prime Day 2018: When Is It and What Should You Know?

When Is the FAFSA Deadline and What Are the Application Requirements?

When Is the FAFSA Deadline and What Are the Application Requirements?