The element in a political party, administration, or other organization that is corrupt, controversial, or tainted by scandal. For example, I can't see myself making a campaign contribution to them—there's too much of a sleaze factor. This slangy expression derives from the adjective sleazy, which means “vulgar” or “tawdry.” The idiom was first used in politics in the 1980s.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.