When the story of Hastert’s $3.5 million promise to one of his victims emerged—he’d paid about half, and the unnamed recipient is suing to collect the other half—one question loomed large: how did someone who spent his life as a public school teacher and coach, and then as a public official, manage to get hold of so much money? How did Hastert’s net worth leap from about $270,000 when he entered Congress to somewhere between $4 million and $17 million by the time he left Congress in 2007?
The answer, it turns out, is land, the stuff your uncle told you to buy because “they aren’t making any more of it.” In Hastert’s case, the way he used his power to turn his land into gold is something out of a Frank Capra movie—damn near literally.
In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the newly minted Senator Jefferson Smith proposes to buy land in order to establish a national boys’ camp. But wealthy, shadowy men, with the help of a corrupt senator, want that land for their own nefarious purposes. What Hastert did is best described in this Washington Post account:
“It was not until after he was elected speaker in 1999 that Hastert began stepping up his land investments, parlaying some early real estate deals and a small inheritance he had from his father.