Arthur Samish

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Arthur "Artie" H. Samish (August 9, 1897 – February 12, 1974) was one of the most influential lobbyists in the history of California, representing movie studios, racetracks, lawyers, insurance companies, fishing, cigarette, liquor and brewing interests. Governor Earl Warren said of Samish that "On matters that affect his clients, Artie unquestionably has more power than the governor."

Early life and family[edit]

Arthur H. Samish was born in East Los Angeles in 1897, but he grew up in San Francisco. His father, an Austrian (or German) immigrant, abandoned the family when Arthur was four years old. His mother devoted her life to raising Arthur. Their home was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when Arthur was eight. After the seventh grade, Arthur quit school, working as a delivery boy, errand boy, and grocery store clerk until, at about age sixteen, he became an office boy for a law firm. Later, he met the San Francisco Tax Collector, Edward F. Bryant, who gave Samish a job that also brought him into contact with Sheriff Thomas Finn, the political "boss" of the city before and during the Prohibition era.

Samish's tenure in the Tax Office ended when it was discovered that he was not old enough to register to vote, a condition required by law for employment. During World War I, he secured a position as Secretary (and "accountant") of "Allied Interests", an association of saloon keepers and retail liquor outlets organized for political action against temperance legislation. Samish collected contributions to fight Prohibition.[1]

Political career[edit]

Later, Samish moved to Sacramento, where he met the private secretary of Hiram Johnson, Governor of California,[2] Through this connection, Samish got a job with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. There he met his future wife, Merced, daughter of Dan Sullivan, State Printer and President of the California State Federation of Labor.

Samish became a page in the California State Assembly, moving up to a clerical position before becoming the Engrossing and Enrolling Clerk for the California State Legislature. Control over the movement of legislation was important for politicians and others who wanted to affect legislation. Samish learned the procedures of the legislative process so well he could hold up legislation on technicalities. As Engrossing and Enrolling Clerk, Artie Samish prepared and corrected versions of any bill that had been modified during debate or reconciliation before final passage. If a bill that started in the California Assembly was modified in the California State Senate, it had to be sent back for rewrite. The amended or modified versions were checked in every detail, including punctuation and spelling. When a bill passed both houses, it was printed before delivery to the governor for signing. If the bill was vetoed, it had to go back to the legislature where a vote for overriding the veto could be held. If a bill passed and became law through signature by the governor or the overriding veto, it was delivered by the Engrossing and Enrolling Clerk to the Secretary of State for filing. Thus, each step had to be verified or performed by the Engrossing and Enrolling Clerk. Samish knew all the critical points where legislation could be expedited or stalled. Later, Samish got a position in the California State Division of Markets. This organization was set up to encourage creation of cooperatives in the marketing of agricultural products.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Samish maintained a lavish suite at the Senator Hotel, just across the street from the Capitol.[3] In time, cigar-smoking Samish, 6 feet 2 inches tall and 300 pounds in weight, wielded more power on some issues than the Governor of California, holding power by distributing campaign funds, calling it his "select and elect" policy. Samish spoke frankly about those he worked for and the power he enjoyed. Following Frank Merriam's successful 1934 election, Samish, who had served as Merriam's chief campaign fundraiser, said to Governor Merriam after being denied a favor, "Why, you bald-headed son of a bitch. I helped you get into the governor's chair. And I'll get your ass out of it too!"[4] Samish was also known to say, "I'm the governor of the legislature; to hell with the Governor of California."[5]

There were two other elements to Samish's power. He could deliver a large bloc of votes of friends and relatives. The interest groups he worked for, when he became a full-time lobbyist, gave Samish control over large funds, what are now called "slush funds," that he spent at his discretion.

Downfall and death[edit]

In the late 1940s, Samish's interview in Collier's Weekly included his photograph with a ventriloquist's dummy, saying, "This is my legislature. How are you, Mr. Legislature?" Naturally, State Legislators were incensed. In 1949, legislation regulating lobbyists and requiring disclosure passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor; and Samish was denounced by the Sacramento County grand jury.

Samish was convicted of tax evasion in 1953, forcing him to pay a million dollars in tax penalties to the Internal Revenue Service.[6] After losing an appeal in 1956, Samish began a three-year sentence at McNeil Island Federal Prison.

Following release from prison, Samish retired from politics. He died in San Francisco in 1974.


  1. ^ Samish's World War I Draft registration card, found by historian Richard Harris Smith at, lists his occupation at age 21 as "accountant" for "Allied Interests", the San Francisco organization formed in 1916 by the Importers and Wholesale Liquor Merchants Association, the San Francisco Brewers Protective Association and similar liquor business groups to successfully oppose statewide temperance legislation. Nan Alamilla Boyd, "Wide-open town: a History of Queer San Francisco to 1965" (University of California Press, 2003)
  2. ^ probably Alexander McCabe, Johnson's private secretary and political manager, who helped organize Johnson's 1910 gubernatorial campaign and "played a central part in all of his subsequent campaigns". Richard Coke Lower, "A Bloc of One, The Political Career of Hiram W. Johnson" (Stanford Univ. Press, 1993) Samish's previous connection to the liquor lobby, did not hurt him in Sacramento, as Governor Johnson did not share the enthusiasm of his fellow Progressives for Prohibition.
  3. ^ Bob Shallit (October 5, 1987). "Historic Senator Hotel Is Sold For $30 Million". Business. Sacramento Bee. p. C1. 
  4. ^ Samish, Arthur; Thomas, Bob (1971). The Secret Boss of California: The Life and High Times of Art Samish. New York: Crown Publishers. ASIN B0006CKHX2. 
  5. ^ "Influence Checked". Time. December 21, 1953. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  6. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (February 3, 2008). "Lobbyist’s ego led to downfall, prison". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 


  • H.R.Philbrick, Report on an investigation of reports of corruption in the Legislature of California (Premier Publications, Sacramento, 1949, reprinted from the original appearance in the California Senate Journal of 1939)*[1]
  • Lester Velie, “The Secret Boss of California,” Collier's, August 13, 1949. (The article that first "exposed" Samish nationally, though his power in Sacramento, ten years after the Philbrick Report, was already an open secret.)
  • Samish, Arthur H.; Thomas, Bob (1971). The Secret Boss of California: The Life and High Times of Art Samish. New York: Crown Publishers. 
  • Arthur H. Samish and Bob Thomas, The Secret Boss of California; the Life and high times of Art Samish (NY, 1971)
  • Thayer Watkins, Arthur Samish: A Political Boss of California
  • History of the Political Reform Division, California Secretary of State