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A slush fund, colloquially, is an auxiliary monetary account or a reserve fund. However, in the context of corrupt dealings, such as those by governments or large corporations, a slush fund can have particular connotations of illegality, illegitimacy, or secrecy in regard to the use of this money and the means by which the funds were acquired.
Political dealings with slush funds tend to create suspicions of quid pro quo (buying political favors), and can be viewed on the surface as corrupt and subversive of the democratic process. For example, Richard Nixon's "Checkers speech" of 1952 was a successful effort to dispel a scandal concerning a rumored slush fund of campaign contributions. Years later Nixon's Watergate scandal did involve slush funds to buy the silence of the Watergate Plumbers.
A slush fund can also be connected to amateur level athletics. In the past fifty years, there have been multiple occurrences where boosters and supporters of a collegiate sport program provide the school and coaches with extra money. This money is then distributed to a number of athletes in order to compensate them for their participation and commitment to their program.
Some of the most memorable scandals that involved slush funds with college athletics occurred at Southern Methodist University in 1986 and the University of Michigan in the 1990s. Southern Methodist's football team was caught receiving money from the school which was being funded by one of the boosters. The University of Michigan had one booster paying several of the men's basketball players, including NBA superstar Chris Webber.
The term slush fund is used in accounting to describe a general ledger account in which all manner of transactions can be posted to commingled funds and "loose" monies by debits and credits cancelling each other out.
The term slush fund was originally a nautical term: the slush was the fat or grease that was skimmed from the top of the caldron when boiling salted meat. The sale of the fat could then be used to provide the crew with special luxuries. The money obtained from this sale was placed into the slush fund.
- Adkins R: "Nelson's Trafalgar, The Battle That Changed the World.", page 37. Viking Penguin, 2005