I have to tell you that the American Constitution says many magnificent things and some really dumb things. An example of the latter is hidden in the very first amendment, which insist, amongst other items, that “Congress shall make no law....abridging the...right to petition the government for redress of grievances.” The problem is the founding fathers never actually defined what a grievance was. The original justification for the revolution - no taxation without representation – was corrected by the establishment of the Constitution itself. But once corrected that complaint morphed into the petty jeremiad , “No taxation if I can afford to buy my Representation.” In such a situation the middle man, the facilitator, the go between between you and your representative is called a lobbyist. And while making you richer, they can also make themselves rich..
“William Irving, who as chairman of the ward meeting in New York, denounces De Witt Clinton for visiting Albany - (he) has forgotten, perhaps, that three years ago he visited Albany nearly a whole winter as a lobby member, to procure a charter for the City Bank.”
The Albany Register, March 25, 1817
Under that new flawed Constitution, William Hull was hired in 1792 to convince the first Congress to cough up the benefits owed to veterans. He quickly realized he was outnumbered. All about Independence Hall swarmed a great cloud of lobbyists, for shipwrights and New England merchants seeking to stop a tariff bill (delayed but passed), merchants seeking an end to the tax on molasses (passed), a pay raise for Federal clerks (denied), military officers seeking repayment of personal moneys (passed) and even states themselves, who sought a louder voice in the federal government than the one already provided for them by the Constitution. The Senate was even forced to block the pitiless lobbyists from their own chamber. In desperation William Hull called for reinforcements. He urged veterans' groups to send supporters to Philadelphia so those who had served their country could be heard above the din. The veterans' bill still died. And eventually so did the veterans, which ended the problem as far as Congress was concerned.
“In the legislature of New York, some years ago, “lobbying” was reduced to a system. The agents for the various private bills...met in a tavern, and took the “yeas and nays” on every bill in which they were interested...So complete was this machinery, and so perfect the sagacity with which the opinions of the independent members were guessed at, that the decisions of the chambers became ludicrous echoes of those of the “lobby!”
Notes on the United States...by George Combe. 1841
In the 1850's Samuel Colt found his original patents were running out, and he launched a campaign to have Congress extend them. The profits he hopped to gain were so great, and the funds he expended to achieve that end were so manifest, that Congress launched an investigation. It recorded that the Connecticut arms maker had supplied women, company stock, Parisian gloves, dinner parties, theater tickets and a great many pistols, even giving one to a congressman's “little son, only eleven or twelve years of age.” Said the chief lobbyist for Colt, “To reach the heart or get the vote, The surest way is down the throat.” Presumably he was referring to food, but the ultimate inheritor of Mr. Colt's tactics, the National Rifle Association, has never been shy about shooting off its own mouth.
“...Then there are the lobby-members, a race very little if any inferior to the real members...It is the business of a lobby member to bribe the real members, in any way that seemeth to them best.”.
The United States of North America as They Are.... By Thomas Brothers. London. 1840
Jay Gould was the head of the Union Pacific Railroad and the clever mastermind behind the Credit Moblier, in which congress paid $145 million ($2.5 billion today) for a transcontinental railroad that actually cost only about $50 million. But to listen to Gould tell it, he was getting shafted by his Washington lobbyist, William Eaton Chandler. Chandler pocketed $10,000 from Gould, and equal amounts from the other members of the scam. Gould's co-conspirator, Collis Huntington, owner of the Southern Pacific Railroad, complained that the lobbyists “are very quick and hungry in Washington this winter.” Still, as Huntington admitted, “We must take care of our friends”: just not like they were family. The friendly members of Congress, who approved the skyrocketing bills for the construction, had been gifted stacks of railroad stock. But the day the railroad was completed, their stock almost worthless. All the profits had channeled through Credit Moblier, which had been held by Gould and Huntington and a few partners so close they were like family. (If you wish to see but a sliver of the fortunes that were stolen from the American taxpayers in the Credit Moblier, please visit the Huntington Library, art galleries and botanical gardens in Pasadena, California. Just tell the guards that your great-great-grandfather paid for the Gainsborough, or the Japanese Tea Garden, and you've come to pick it up.)
"This business of lobbying, so called, is as precarious as fishing in the Hebrides. You get all ready, your boats go out--suddenly there comes a storm, and away you are driven.... Everybody who knows anything about Washington, knows that ten times, aye, fifty times, more measures are lost than are carried; but once in a while a pleasant little windfall of this kind recompenses us, who are always toiling here, for the disappointments. I am not ashamed--I do not say I am proud, but I am not ashamed--of the occupation."
Samuel Ward. Congressional Testimony. 1875
Samuel Ward. Congressional Testimony. 1875
Samuel Ward liked to be known as the King of the Lobbyists - quite an ego. And there was no doubt, he was one of the most fascinating men in the Gilded Age. He'd been educated at the best schools in Europe. He had made and lost half a dozen fortunes. His best friend was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his sister wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, for heaven's sake. He was a poet, and perhaps the anonymous author of “Diary of a Common Man.” It seemed he had only become a lobbyist because it allowed him to dine like a king on the client's dime. And his clients included insurance and telegraph companies, steamship and railroad lines, bankers, mining conglomerates, manufacturers, investors, the nation of Paraguay, among others, and whichever private citizens had enough money to afford government protection against their business competitors. To all comers, Sam Ward was living proof that the American government thinks with its stomach.
"To introduce a bill properly, to have it referred to the proper committee...to attend to it, to watch it, to have a counsel to go and advocate it before the committee, to see that members of the committee do not oversleep on the mornings of important meetings, to watch for the coming in of the bill to Congress day after day, week after week, to have your men on hand a dozen times, and to have them as often disappointed; to have one of those storms which spring up in the Adriatic of Congress, until your men are worried, and worn, and tired, and until they say to themselves that they will not go up to the Capitol today--and then to have the bird suddenly flushed, and all your preparations brought to naught, these, these are some of the experiences of the lobby."
Samuel Ward. Congressional Testimony 1875
At a time (the 1880's) when Washington was infamous for its dearth of quality restaurants and serving horribly bad food, Samuel Ward was a gourmet, a bon vivant and cognoscente of fine wine and conversation. A meal at his table was seasoned with witty stories of the famous, and his guests were a happy mix of the powerful and the wealthy. An evening at his tables was described by one guest as “The climax of civilization”, at least in Washington, D.C.. One year his clients reimbursed Sam $12,000 just for “Dinner Expenses” - over $200,000 today. It was Sam who inspired Mark Twain to define the age as “The Great Barbeque.” His “ambrosia nights” inspired imitators but no real competitors. The only drawback to such a life as that lived by Samuel Ward is that he was honest. He died broke, in Naples, in 1889. The New York Times was rapt in its praise – once he was dead. “He never resorted to vulgar bribery; he excelled rather in composing the enmities and cementing the rickety friendships which play so large a part in political affairs, and he tempted men not with the purse, but with banquets, graced by vivacious company, and the conversation of wits and people of the world.” They had to invent a phrase for what Samuel Ward did. They called it “The Social Lobby”. Future generations would broaden the definition of the practice.
“Wife of Washington Lobbyist Uses Money as Wrapping Paper"
"The wife of Washington lobbyist Ed Rogers gets the money sheets from the United States Bureau of Engraving and then slices and dices as you would any wrapping paper to best fit the gift and get the best pattern on the front of the package (in this case it's lining up Washington's face just right). No matter that she regularly cuts several bills in half in the process, to be frugal she sticks to the dollar paper and only uses it to wrap "small" gifts. A sheet of money paper consisting of 32 $1 bills and sells for $55. “
Luxist. (“a web site dedicated to covering the best the world has to offer.”) September 8, 2008
- 30 -