Ronald Reagan's Most Controversial Presidential Pardon You've Never Heard Of

Over the years, presidents have made some pretty controversial pardons that have gone on to raise a few eyebrows. In fact, pretty much every modern president has been criticized for his pardons, but many of Ronald Reagan's seemed at odds with his reputation as a "law-and-order" president. According to The New York Times, those to whom he granted a pardon in the last week of his term included tax evaders, gun smugglers, cocaine dealers, and others who challenged law and order. None of them were actually in jail when they received their pardons, so they basically just received official exoneration for crimes for which they'd already been punished.

But the most controversial pardon of that group was a man who was no stranger to controversy himself: New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner. The owner was used to being in the media spotlight. His temper, which caused him to vociferously rake his players over the coals in public, often eclipsed his team's successes on the field. Let's take a look into Steinbrenner's history to see what Ronald Reagan pardoned him for.

Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner for violating campaign finance laws

His presidential pardon came in 1989, but the crimes for which George Steinbrenner received clemency had occurred nearly 20 years earlier, when he made a large illegal contribution to Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. He had donated $100,000 to Nixon's campaign, then tried to cover it up by bullying his employees at his shipbuilding company to lie about it to a grand jury. In April 1974, he plead guilty to charges of felony obstruction of justice and misdemeanor conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions.

But Reagan had his reputation to think about. According to Time, he didn't want to make it look like he'd suddenly gone soft on crime, so as a condition of receiving the pardon, he made Steinbrenner admit that he had committed the crimes for which he was being forgiven. The pardon was just another example of a rich white man ironically getting off scot-free by admitting he was guilty. Steinbrenner continued being the super-rich owner of the Yankees until his death in 2010.